9.24.2016

OT: Post Swim Croissant Tasting at Cantine Italian Cafe and Grill in Austin, Texas. Post workout fun.

Croissant Trio from Pieous, Dripping Springs, Texas.

I woke up this morning, gulped down a cup of hot Irish Breakfast tea with milk and a tiny bit of sugar and headed out the door for the 8:30-10:00 a.m. Masters Swim Practice. I was a few minutes late getting to the deck and when I got there all the medium pace lanes were filled up. I ended up sharing a lane with a notoriously dedicated triathlete whose workout philosophy is harder, faster, better. She dragged me through 4800 yards and I was spent by the end. Feeling virtuous but physically spent.

Afterward fellow swimmer, Emmett Fox, asked me if I had my camera (yes, always) and reminded me that we'd be forsaking our mundane local Starbucks for after-swim coffee in preference for a morning at Cantine Italian Cafe And Grill. Emmett and swimming spouse ( partner of one who swims... ) Dr. Jim Grubbs were going to host a tasting event to decide, once and for all, which bakery had the best croissants in all of Austin. No burnt coffee and refrigerated pastries at Starbucks this week!

Cantine, the restaurant, is closed on Saturday morning so we had the entire place to ourselves. Jim and Emmett had put together a selection of eight candidates from favorite local bakeries, as well as one mystery entry, the identity of which we discovered at the end. They put out three each of the croissants on nine plates and numbered the plates. No one was told the provenance of the pastries until the tasting was over and the scores tabulated. The eight local candidates for butter and flour supremacy were from: 

Baguette et Chocolat, Texas French Bread, Sweetish Hill Bakery, Easy Tiger Bakery, Cafe No Sé (S. Congress Hotel), La Patisserie, Elizabeth Street Cafe, and a bakery near chef Emmett's home in Dripping Springs --- Pieous. 

We tasted in small amounts, clearing our palettes with wonderful, stout coffee (thanks Cantine!) and we made notes and rated each entry on a scale of 1 to 5. The results were tabulated and the winner (by consensus) was Pieous Bakery from Dripping Springs. The very, very close second was the entry from Café No Se. 

I brought a Sony RX10iii camera along and made images of our encounter with good food. It was a fun way to spend a toasty and humid Saturday morning; swilling coffee in the air conditioned comfort of one of Austin's best restaurants while chewing on croissants. Especially fun for me as I had my camera in my hand. 

So, the surprise inclusion, made, I am sure, tongue-in-cheek, was three croissants that Jim bought in the frozen section at the local Trader Joe's Market. He took them home, followed the baking instructions and included them in the artisanal mix. Anonymity didn't matter, even the least discerning in the group was able to understand the difference in texture and overall taste. Like one other in the group the Trader Joe's version had added sugar, which we believe D.Q.'s it from being "authentic." 

We disbanded and went our separate ways, planning to meet for next week's coffee at Cafe No Se.
An earlier motion to move to McDonalds was roundly vetoed.

Why the move from Starbucks after 15 or so years? Easy, they remodeled the local store and did an incredibly bad job with the remodel. It is much louder, the overall seating was reduced and the seating that is left is almost impossible to configure for any group of more than four. The final straw is the chain's new devotion to costumer confusion. They changed the flow and now no one knows how or where to line up to order their stuff. Instead of a line you get a confused group of people who would dearly love to get coffee but have no idea of who is next or why. No signage. No stantions. No directional supports. It's very sad when companies make customer experiences meaner and dowdier. And whoever sold them the pin spot LEDs that shine in everyone's eyes, no matter where they sit, did no favors to people who are sensitive to good lighting and/or good design. Next time they remodel they might consider hiring architects, or at least consider keeping the ones they use (if they did) sober and rational. So there is a basket of good reasons to shun this member of the chain and search out better. local providers. My advice? Short the stock...especially if all their remodels turn out as poorly as this one did...

#5. My personal favorites for flavor and texture. From No Sé at the South Congress Hotel.


The overall winner.

The runner up. By a nanometer.

Our host was Cantine; my favorite South Austin restaurant. Renowned for their great pizzas. 


Emmett preparing the blind taste test. 


Martha takes notes.


Rating for appearance. 

Incidentally, Pieous wins for best appearance. 


discussing the fine points of baked goods. 

The Co-Captains: Dr. Jim Grubbs and Restauranteur, Emmett Fox.


Lisa Fox (co-owner, Cantine) slices croissants into sample sized servings. 

Patty and Jim get serious with their evaluations.

Stout and virtuous, free flowing coffee to cleanse our palettes between samples...

We rated on both texture and taste.





















9.23.2016

Photographs are physical manifestations of opinions. Opinions about what looks interesting and what doesn't.


Of the nice things people say about photographs (beautiful, balanced, long tones, great composition, wonderful color, outstanding technique, lovely bokeh, etc.) the one aspect that ultimately makes a photograph interesting or not is the content. And, with the exception of pure documentation (here's is an exact photographic copy of your painting...), all photographic content is the expression of an opinion from an artist about what to include in a frame of what to leave out. Once the image has been framed there is an opinion expressed again about how to express the framed content. Will it be black and white? Will it be color? Will the color be accurate or reflect some nostalgic affectation from yesteryear? How big or small with the final photograph be? How contrasty should the image be?
If one takes multiple images of a person how then will the final frame be chosen? What parameters will be used in that process? In the taking of the photograph will the photographer attempt to impose more or less control over the event of the photograph? Will he suggest or demand a certain pose? Will he infer the pose or expression by subtly mirroring what he wants to see in the final frame to his subject?

And where did all these intermingled opinions come from? When we first embark on making art we have a certain amount of life experience and, to be honest, it's the subjective life experiences (and the reactions to the experiences) of each artist that makes work unique. Uniquely interesting or uniquely banal.  

For most of us being young means that we've seen fewer things which might inform our vision. As we grow older we hope(?) that life has unveiled many, many interesting things to us, and those are the touchstones we use to decide what to include in our art and how to include it. But each person comes from a different collage of experiences and studies. And the counterpoint to this wealth of experience and exposure is our self-censorship as we are certain that we've seen something like this before and we're beaten down (by repetition) until we are convinced that our variation of the thing already seen can't equal the samples we've seen from the masters of old. We see the overarching opinion instead of our alterations and additions...

I think we are profoundly affected and trained by so much of what we've seen when we were young and didn't understand anything about the constraints and clichés of art. My earliest visual memories come from a time when my own father was in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. We lived in a two story apartment and I must have been all of four or five years old. My first visual memories are of light and shadow. The cold, blue, winter light that came in through the living room windows to bath the aging, borrowed furniture in a Sven Nyqvist sort of illumination. Austere and precise light. It was a bright, cold light that rendered soft, thin shadows. Another memory of the time is of me stopping just to stare at the way light came though the spindles on the railing that ran up the stair case and projected shadows on a soft, pale and pastel, yellow wall. It was the same year I really looked at leaves on a tree as being both part of the tree and separate from the tree.

I was not an early age photographer. I only came to photography in my last years at college, and then only as a hobby or a pass time. My training was in literature and, for me, images have their own words attached, even if they are just gratuitous descriptions of what already exists in the photographs. 

I'm sure that the things we see early on are the same things that become part of our process and make up the bulk of our personal work in photography. When I make a portrait looking at the completed images reminds me of the feeling of the session and the words we exchanged while the subject and I collaborated in the making of the portraits. The words intermingle with the graphic-ness and objective content of the images in front of me. My whole endeavor in creating portraits is to first feel deeply attached to the subject and the moment, and second, to try and share the whole feeling, encapsulated precariously onto two dimensions. The experience and the actual piece of art are inseparable to me if it's work that means anything to me. 

This will seem odd or embarrassing for me to admit but I will write it anyway. I have always been captivated by beautiful people in my world. Not a mundane, classic beauty like the blond movie starlets but a deeper and more compelling beauty that flows from the eyes of a subject and from their projection of grace as they move or alight. It's a combination of some inner energy that is resident in some and not in others along with engaging features. It's that kind of beauty that overwhelmed me when I first met my (now) wife so many years ago. And here is the embarrassing thing to admit:

After practicing portraiture and living through the endless process of just living as a photographer I came to my conclusion that your vision is molded by your experiences. If you see beauty around you then it becomes part of your subconscious context for your future existence. For your intellectual choices. When my son was born I made a point to hire the most beautiful baby sitters possible. People already in my sphere of life because of my work or my conscious efforts to be surrounded by interesting people. When we left my son in someone's care in order to go out to a show opening, a reception or an adult dinner, I wanted him to be able to look into the eyes of someone with whom I had photographed and had witnessed the sort of grace and energy I'd experienced from them. For his first three years he spent most of his time with his mother. Of all the people I've photographed she exemplified to me those attributes I had come to value. But his other caretakers were beautiful in their own way as well. You've seen and commented on many of them here on this blog when I've displayed their portraits. In this way I consciously tried to prejudice my child toward an appreciation for a certain kind of beauty. 

If he ever embraces photography, or some other expressive visual art, I hope that grounding will serve to prejudice him to see in a certain way and create opinions that share his internalization of my early efforts to surround him with interesting beauty. 

In some ways it's no different than painting a nursery with soothing colors or supplying plush crib toys for tactile pleasure. 

So, in the end, all compelling photography is nothing more than well seen subjects selected and enhanced through the opinions, created by the life experiences, of the artist. Since that is so it stands to reason that the more richly you experience life and the more widely you travel the richer these visual opinions become. The secret is in sharing them without the attendant cynicism of age/experience intruding upon or retarding your joy at making the art, and understanding that it resides in an ever changing continuum of opinions. Some opinions widely shared and some springing to life because of private experiences that were not as widely shared. Those are the ones that make much good work interesting.  

Just a thought. It goes along with the idea that "to make more interesting work you must become a more interesting person."   Understanding the mechanics of writing a love poem is less important than being in love. At least when attempting to write that love poem. Maybe that's what we are doing when we make good portraits. Even if the feeling is temporary.



9.22.2016

Another Portrait from Yesterday's Session. Michelle.


The A7Rii is a wonderful portrait camera. The enormously detailed files allow one to soften parts of images in order to enhance the look without losing the plot. The ability to punch a button with my thumb and have the camera focus specifically on a eye is also a huge sigh of happiness and relief for any photographer vexed by years of DSLRs front and back focusing on beautiful faces, rendering hours of work ultimately unsatisfying. I wish Adobe's Camera Raw would read the correct camera profile I've set instead of defaulting to Adobe Standard, but it's simple enough to change.

The nice realization for me yesterday (and working with the files today....) is how much I like the look and feel of the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. I know everyone reflexively ponies up for the faster, f2.8 lens but I think they'd mostly be happier with a lens that's half the weight, much smaller and at least as equally sharp. I can't imagine that the difference between f4.0 and f2.8 is critical in zooming applications. If I wanted to get less depth of field and still keep things sharp I'm pretty sure I'd be reaching for something like the 135mm f2.0 instead...

At any rate working with the files of someone you really like is such a pleasure. Especially considering that most of our work is the business of meeting strangers, trying to find some sort of connective intersection in mere moments, and then handing off finished images to someone you might never see again. This is, of course, the antidote to that, and the kind of pleasurable occurrence that keeps me making portraits. The most important tool in making portraits might be conversation.


Warning!!! Delicious Food Photographs. Do Not View Before Lunch Hour if your planned destination is fast food. NSFW: Late Afternoon Hunger Alert.


I did this to myself. You know that time when the lunch hour is creeping up and you only have one more appointment for the morning? It's 11:30 a.m. but you get a plaintive call from the person who is supposed to be sitting in the studio in front of you right now. They've got a great excuse. It's an 18 wheeler stuck under the overpass between you and them. It's the flat tire. It's the meeting with the CEO that ran into overtime. Doesn't matter what. The excuse is generally followed with...."I'm sorry but I am on my way. Shouldn't take more than 10 minutes...." And you can be pretty sure that the ten minutes will turn into a half an hour, but you love your customers so you say, "No problem. I've got lots of stuff to work on. Drive safely and I'll see you when you get here..." You put the phone down and the first rumble of hunger echoes around in your belly like marbles in a blender. 

You told a small lie. You finished your pressing work while waiting for the last tardy client. You are bored and you were looking forward to making a nice portrait and then heading over to the house for quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich on that fabulous seven grain Ezekiel bread, along with a big glass of Horizon whole, organic milk. Maybe you'd top it off with a piece of dark chocolate and a fragrant little coffee with a dollop of fresh cream.  Sneak some time to re-read a chapter in that novel you've been sweating over. But now you are chained to your workspace for an indeterminate time. And the second hand on your watch is arguing with the laws of relatively because you definitely know that you are not going the speed of light. Why is the hand moving so slowly? Would time go quicker on a digital watch?

So you commit the error. You browse your image galleries. And then you land on the one with food photos in it. And you scroll and scroll as the acids in your stomach churn in time to the Rollingstones' song you've got playing through the sound system. And you see the food you could be eating. Right now. 


Wine Bottles brought to you by the Sony RX10ii. 




Food above provided by David Garrido and absorbed into the realm of photography by 
a Sony A77 and the 70-200mm f2.8. (The "A's" are making a comeback?).


Or time for a cocktail delivered two dimensionally by the Sony A99 and a 
Rokinon 85mm f1.4.

A dessert from Hudsons on the Bend imaged for you by the Nikon D300 and 
a 6o mm macro lens. 

Another Sony a77 shot from the Rainey Street area. With a cheap 30mm macro.

Maybe some Ravioli at Asti via an ancient Canon 5Dmk2.

And something sparkly from the Hilton. 

But just as you are about to give up, ditch the boring sandwich idea and head to Cantine Italian Grill and Bar for a juicy lamb burger and some spicy brussel sprouts you get the next phone call. "Is your studio on the east side or west side of highway 71?" And you know you're going to spend some quality(?) time as a ground traffic controller for a lost and wayward client while you search around the studio, looking for old Power Bars that aren't too far out of date.... Ah, the glamorous career of photography....Just don't click on the food folder before lunch, it doesn't help anything.