I had a delightful time at the Caffe Medici last Sunday and I’m not even a coffee drinker. Of course, for me, it’s about the people I’m with and not necessarily about the drink, though serious coffee drinkers may disagree. What makes this special is it was all unplanned. It all came about because I decided to change my usual pattern and do something different. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was dropping my parents at the airport and decided to take a photo detour through downtown.
After I captured some contrasting flora, I headed south toward the train tracks. I’m constantly amazed by the pace of change and the new development in downtown Austin. It’s a trend that I like. Now, parts of downtown actually resembles a real city with the critical mass of buildings, people and businesses to make it a living entity. The train situation is decidedly backwards and depressing. Tucked away at the end of the downtown core is a pathetic, small AMTRAK station. Quite understandable since we probably get one or so trains passing through the city per day. Maybe because I’ve grew up in the East Coast and have visited the great train cities in Europe and Japan, but it just saddens me that such a great and growing city like Austin has such a diminished rail presence. Yes, cars now rule the country and Austin is no exception. Stepping over the rails and shooting the newly rising downtown condos, I hear a familiar voice. Well, if it isn’t my friend Kirk Tuck, commercial photographer and blogger from the very popular Visual Science Lab. He was riding his very cool and sleek Bodhi Electric bike and was on his way to his own photo excursion. He was generous enough to let me tag along and we headed east towards the center of town.
We were busy making our compositions when Kirk remarks, “Is that Frank?”. “You mean, our Frank?”, I responded. Yes, it was Frank, another one of our photo friends. He too was walking along with this camera, practicing his craft. So now, 3 strong, we continue east towards a 2 block area that almost resembled New York City in activity. There were tons of pedestrians, people at outdoor cafes and even a loud siren from a passing fire truck. Of course, what was cooler than the Big Apple was the fact that people could eat outside and stroll around in long sleeve T-shirts in the middle of January. Yes, we suffer through the summers here in Austin, but in winter, we get to enjoy these outdoor café sitting days. Frank had his new Olympus E-P3, while I carried my trusty E-PL1. Ironically, Kirk had his Nikon V1. Ironic because, Kirk, through his blog, had influenced me to get in the Olympus Pen gear and he most likely influenced Frank too. Maybe Frank and I are just a step behind Master Kirk. Maybe in a year or so we too will be sporting the small Nikons. Of course, by then Kirk will be at the forefront of the next big camera trend.
I knew where we were headed since Kirk and Frank are big coffee drinkers. The Caffe Medici at the base of Austin’s swankiest Condo, the Austonian. And though I didn’t drink the stuff, I knew the company will be interesting and the conversation would be good. Of course we talk about photography, the industry, hardware trends, the photography business as well as about blogging. We shift into other topics, take pictures of the interesting people that surround us and then drift back into conversation. Photography has been a source of creativity and challenge but equally important has been the friends I’ve made along the way. Meeting people face to face during photo walks and the eating and drinking that follows has truly improved my well-being. I’ve greatly expand my circle of friends. I read once that men, unlike women, tend not to have enough friends and social interactions, especially as they grow older. Pre-photography, that was probably true for me too.
Beyond enjoying the photographic craft and making new friends, the quest to make images have gotten me out of my old suburban patterns. You know the one where you get into the hermetically sealed car, open the garage door and drive the suburban loop roads to the industrial park. Very little interaction with real people. Now, I make frequent trips to downtown Austin, where on foot, I get to experience the real life. It is not always pretty or controlled like the suburbs but there is an authenticity that the new simulated pseudo-cities called life-style malls lack. You know these new malls, the ones that are outdoor and have fake town squares in them to give you the impression that they are real urban places. Now I walk the streets of downtown Austin, observing, capturing images and if lucky run into friends and strike-up conversations in cafes — even if I don’t drink the coffee.
Here is Kirk’s post about our chance downtown encounter.
Also, here are a few more images that I shot between our conversation at the Cafe. I used both the 20mm f1.7 lens and the 45mm f1.8 lenses on the Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.