I had a great time during my India and Singapore trip and have some interesting stories and photograph to share. However, before I get into my international experiences, I wanted to shift gears and talk about SXSW. South by Southwest, the large music, film and interactive conference that started last Friday is a big deal here in Austin. Last year there are about 50,000 attendees that took over downtown for 2 weeks. In previous years, I’ve gone downtown to listen to some music and do a photowalk but I’ve generally stayed clear of the madness. Luckily for Austin, SXSW is confined to downtown so most of the rest of the city can go about its business without much of an impact. This year, I decided to see what the fuss is all about and made a trip to the heart of the activity with my usual 2 camera setup. The rainy weather finally cleared at it was a perfectly sunny and comfortable Sunday afternoon.
Much of the interactive portion of SXSW in centered around the Austin Convention Center, where they have their conference sessions. The SXSW film also runs in parallel with Interactive with the music portion starting tomorrow. I was amazed how the 5 block area around the Convention Center transformed into another world. A world of large corporate logos, parties and promotions. I didn’t notice all the promotions going on while I visited, I guess the years of commercials have desensitized me to all the advertising. However, when I got back and looked at all the photographs, I was struck by the prevalent commercialism that permeates SXSW. There are big and famous corporate entities, small startups and everyone in between, working feverishly to make an impression.
After coming back from India and Singapore, where there is a lot of people on the streets, the US can be a calm yet disconnected place. Most of our cities are more geared towards cars which tends to isolate us from each other. The good news is there seems to be a trend to redevelop the downtown areas. Events like SXSW, even though they are transient, get people together and interacting in an vibrant and urban area. Though it seems overly commercial, it was nice to see all these people in downtown Austin. So below are some images that I captured from my afternoon at SXSW. A visitor to my own city, taking in the sites from the periphery.
The Austin Convention Center was packed. I was able to enter the main floor without a conference badge but the conference rooms were restricted to the attendees. I’m not sure what Interactive really encompasses, but my best guess is it’s everything social, web, media and the future trends. I imagine when the SXSW Interactive started in the mid 90s, there were more multi-media topics. Anyone remember interactive CDs? I heard Twitter got it real start back a few years ago here and I’m sure the next generation of entrepreneurs are looking for the next great thing. The message board below is a microcosm of what I imagine SXSW to be — everyone vying for their spot, trying to get their message heard.
The noise, crowds and clutter were in high gear. People rushed from place to place, purposefully, to get to their next thing. I heard one of the problems with SXSW is that it has outgrown its space. The convention center is no longer large enough to contain all the sessions. People are forced to travel to different hotels and venues throughout the city. Consequently, the downtown core now becomes the new extended convention center. Between the venues, the open parking lots transform into corporate showcases. The image above is a sports oriented play and promotion area for Nike. Another parking lot next doors became a lounge are for Bing (Microsoft). Restaurants become private, conference badge only meeting places. Fast Company magazine and CNN both transformed local restaurants into their temporary promotional spots.
The thing I found amusing are the big corporations, with no apparent media connection, trying hard to cater to the crowd. Lincoln and Chevrolet had their wares on display. Lincoln had a sleek-looking prototype and Chevy offered test drives. My vote for the biggest corporate play to look cool to media/tech people is PepsiCo. I’m not sure how a beverage and snack food company convinces computer people that they are hip and cool but they did have a really neat phone booth with animated LCD panels as well as a scoreboard with some kind of tweet competition results.
And here is a backdrop for any impromptu photo-ops, a la Hollywood. No celebrities spotted but I did get a good image of the sponsors.
Back outside the convention center, I shot some group portraits of people doing world of mouth advertising. Some promoted a new upcoming TV shot on CBS, others a new iPhone application and yet others were promoting media services. Either way, it was a great way to get some street photographs and portraits.
Finally, my vote for the two coolest things I saw at the event. First up is Morgan from FedEx. She was sporting a one of a kind jacket with numerous USB connectors so that you can plug into her (yeah, she’s heard all the jokes) and charge up your phone. The jacket has batteries sewn in to power the entire wearable charging station. The last item is decidedly very low tech. A nice contrast to all the newest gimmicks around. A film company, as part of their promotion, offered to take Polaroid photos with this beautiful Wista Field camera. The photographer mentioned that this rosewood and brass camera can be used almost anywhere because it is fully manual. In fact, she took this to the North pole where it worked perfectly, no batteries to worry about. Of course, this is a perfect place to end this post, with camera hardware, since this is a photography blog after all.
Thank you for stopping by. Now is everyone ready for the SXSW Music? It starts tomorrow.
The photographs were taken with my 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.