Monday, January 28, 2008

Texas Pawn

John Wayne
Texas Pawn Shop
Fredricksburg, TX
December 2007

One of the places I stopped on my drive from Austin to Marfa was a sparse pawn shop in Fredricksburg called Texas Pawn. I talked with owner, Jimmy, for a while and asked him why he thought so many people in Texas owned guns. The first explanation he gave was, "To shoot people when they need to, of course," and I forgot all of the subsequent reasons he described.

Jimmy told me that he used to photograph crime scenes for the police department and also shot weddings on the side, something we have in common. He asked me if I ever noticed that no matter how homely a woman might be in the rest of her life, all brides are beautiful on their wedding day. I said yes, in fact, I have noticed that. I guess it is the dress and the effort and the love and the attention. Grooms are like clean guys in suits, unless you really know them, but there is definitely something more vivid and remarkable where brides are concerned.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dream Catchers

Dream Catchers Sleep Lab
Dripping Springs, TX
December 2007

Red Curtains
Dream Catchers Sleep Lab
Dripping Springs, TX
December 2007

Around this time last year, a message arrived in my inbox from an old friend from Chicago, someone I hadn't seen or spoken to in nine years. And during the spring, we finally met for lunch in the East Village, and our friendship was resurrected.

My friend, an opera singer with a singular flair for drama, told me her story of a car accident, a divorce, a new love affair, a betrayal. I was recently "divorced" myself, and thus began our conversations on love and loss.

Sometimes as often as three times a week, we talk on the phone into the late hours of the night. I get these text messages, "Are u up?," and I call her back with news on my crushes and hear the latest on hers - who wrote back and who didn't write back, and what she said, and what he said, or didn't say, and what do we make of all this? Who could really endure stuff this alone, I wonder.

The night I arrived in Austin a week before Christmas, I called her from my bed in the guest room of my brother's house. It seems that some of these lonely feelings hit you the hardest around the holidays. Since I was planning to finally take some pictures, I asked her, how do you put these feelings that keep us up at night into a photograph?

The next day, after I left Red's Indoor Range, I continued my drive on Highway 290. At the side of the road in Dripping Springs, I spotted a sign for Dream Catchers Sleep Lab and pulled up to its entrance.

The rooms were dark and quiet and empty. Somber, like hotel rooms. People come to these rooms to sleep and to be studied while they sleep so they can understand why sleep is so elusive.

What are these longings and anxieties and conditions that make us restless in the darkest hours? What are we dreaming about when we are awake?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gus Powell

Gus Powell
Backstage at Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
June 2006

I made the long trek up to 103rd Street in the rain last night for the reception of Manhattan Noon, photographs by Gus Powell currently showing at The Museum of the City of New York. I can't help but think, "I knew Gus when ...," well, when he was a tall, gangly freshman taking photo courses at Oberlin College, and I was a disheveled sophomore who was chronically covered in paint specks and photo chemicals, a look described by another former Oberlin art major as an "apocalyptic gas station attendant."

Now here we are, both New Yorkers. And while I am still more or less a gas station attendant, Gus is one of the savviest of New Yorkers whom I know. In fact, you can frequently find his photographs in the GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN section of The New Yorker. And Manhattan Noon, shot in the tradition of Gary Winogrand and inspired by the poems of Frank O'Hara, is full of smart, quick, ironic, funny and poetic observations about New Yorkers at lunchtime.

I shot the photograph of Gus hovering above backstage after Rufus Wainwright's concert at Carnegie Hall in June 2006. Gus was actually hired to shoot the event, and I was roaming around with my new digital camera playing paparazzi and gawking at the likes of Antony from Antony and the Johnsons. Watching Gus work, I grew convinced that part of what makes him such a great photographer is his long arms and the way one can handle a flash and the other can operate a camera. It was a though he were an acrobat, or a mime, or something marvelous that he might chance upon during one of his midday strolls.

To see Gus's photos for yourself, check out:

Manhattan Noon
Photographs by Gus Powell
Thru March 16
The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave. @ 103rd Street

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Red's Indoor Range
West Austin, TX
December 2007

The first morning I woke up in Austin, I left my brother's house and drove straight to Twin Falls. I had my heart set on finding someone in the woods, someone beautiful and intense and sexy, or just simply interesting. It's December, and I was nervous that I'd find anyone at all. I walked a long trail through the woods to the falls, and the trees were exquisite in the morning light, but there was no one to be found. I tried to convince myself to appreciate this rare encounter with the forces of natural beauty and to accept an inevitable disappointment. How often will the real world meet up with one's hopes and fantasies, really, and isn't this the crux of what makes photography, not to mention love, so difficult?

I left the woods and drove aimlessly on Lamar in gloomier spirits and then pulled into the parking lot of McBride's Gun Shop. I toured the store, gazing at the guns and the taxidermy on the walls and the salesmen behind the counters. In a backroom, I found a bumper sticker that read I Heart Explosives next to an old t.v. set and some western memorabilia, and when I asked a clerk if I could take a picture, she directed me to speak to Mr. McBride himself.

Standing outside Mr. McBride's office, I felt like an overgrown tomboy whose awkwardness and discontent was all too visible on the surface, and considered how best to express this request to him. Mr. McBride was dressed in a pale suit and looked like a man's man who smokes cigars and hunts and knows how to manage money, and I told him I was interested in photographing some cowboy stuff in his backroom.

Mr. McBride sent an assistant to escort me to see precisely what it was that I wanted to photograph, and when I showed him, among other things, the bumper-sticker, he said, "Well, I can just give you one of these." I told him that wasn't quite what I had in mind, and I could hear myself faltering to explain what my intentions were. He said, "This doesn't make any sense ...," and I let it go, perhaps he's right, and left the shop in a deeper depression.

Frustration seething in my neck, I drove back down Lamar and got on Highway 290 towards Johnson City. I spotted Red's Indoor Range at the side of the road and figured I'd try my luck there. I was surprised when the clerk said it was no problem if I wanted to take a picture of a target.

The clerk trailed after me in the shooting range because I had wandered in without ear protection and might have staggered out deaf, which would have been a steep price to pay for a photograph, especially for one of which I was skeptical. While I shot the target, two large Texan men stood nearby firing guns, and their shots sounded like the underwater crunch of metal I recall from car accidents. I could feel the sound pass through my body, merging with my own dark energy, and wondered if this was satisfying somehow ... did I get this out of my system?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Barry Stone

Checking for Loose Limbs, Austin, TX, 10.14.2007
copyright Barry Stone

Barry Stone
Highway 71 Revisited
Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery
438 Union Avenue at Metropolitan

January 11 - February 10, 2008
Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 7-9pm
Artist's Talk: Sunday, January 13, 12-1pm

Coming up on Friday is the opening of Highway 71 Revisited, the second solo exhibition of a friend and former colleague at the ICP, Barry Stone. Barry and his family moved to Texas in August for a teaching position at The University of Texas in San Marcos, and after Christmas, I got a chance to drop in on their new home and get a sneak preview of prints for his exhibition.

For nearly two years, I have been watching Barry's work unfold through his Weekly Picture Archive. And if I were to try to identify what makes his work so captivating, the very first thing that comes to mind is his value system - his love and devotion to his wife, his daughter, and the environments and moments that make up their daily lives. With understated humor, sensitivity and visual poetry, Barry has examined the experiences of a family living in Greenpoint, and then returning to Texas, where Barry was born and raised.

Barry's recent images describe a place this is both surreal and melancholy. A place where trees and skies are sublime and haunting, where people pause under highways, and where a galaxy emerges from flour spilled on a kitchen floor. His images resonate from an attentiveness to uncanny details in the everyday and create a personal narrative that is curious and moving.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


One of my favorite art spaces in downtown Austin is the Arthouse at the Jones Center in a stylishly contemporized building on Congress Ave. which was once a movie theatre and then later a Lerners department store. The current exhibition by Florian Swanson, a Berlin-based conceptual artist, is a temporary and site specific installation which transforms the structure of the center through the absence of art objects and the use of lighting to call attention to the structure and history of the building. When I described the exhibition to my sister-in-law, she laughed and gave me one of those quizzical looks ... so-this-is-what-they-call-art?

After I had previously visited the Arthouse in August, I wrote on my blog about the New American Talent: The Twenty-Second Exhibition, including photography by Sam Gerazi and paintings by Kim Owens. This year's New American Talent 23 is a national all media competition open to artists living and working in the United States. The deadline to submit entries for consideration is January 28, and accepted work will be shown at the Arthouse from June-August and then travel to venues in Texas from fall 2008 through summer 2010.

For more information about submitting work, go to New American Talent 23.