Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

Tuesday Night Fire, Take 2
[In high rise elevator]

Tim Kizminski: How are we supposed to know if the floor is on fire in one of these?

Lt. Steven McCaffrey: When the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

Backdraft 1991

Do you remember Backdraft? Came out in the early 90's, starring Kurt Russell, one of the Baldwin boys, Jason Gedrick, and good ol' Robert De Niro. All of them are fire fighters of sordid experience, playing with Old Man Fire in Chicago. Little Billy Baldwin and Gedrick are probies. You know, the FNGs. Fresh out of fire fighter training and eager to fit in. It's a feel good coming of age story. Or something.

Anyway, there's a scene where Gedrick (Kizminski) and Russell (McCaffrey) are riding up an elevator handling a fire call out. Kizminski's nervous. I recall this being his first real run. I recall that quote above very distinctly. It's pragmatic and soberingly snarky. Something you'd expect from a master teaching a young student. A firefighter's koan if ever there was one.

This scene popped into my mind last Thursday as I was reading a notice from the City of Austin after it was prominently stapled to the front door of the Hostel. Err, I mean the warehouse. Rather, the building where our studio coop is.

"... tenants have until July 16th to vacate the premises ..."

"... unsafe conditions ..."

"... condemned ..."

Whiskey-tango-foxtrot. Ground control, we have a problem.

So, good for us, we don't own the building. We're just a tenant. Bad for us, we're just a tenant and we no longer have a studio. In my faux shock and awe ("I'm shocked! SHOCKED I say!") I continued to read through the three pages of violations that the landlord was being charged with. In no particular order (and the ones I could remember) are:

  • No sprinkler system

  • Wrong zoning (zoned warehouse, instead used for multi-use tenant)

  • Dead end hallways leading to entrapment condition during fire

  • Lack of inside lighting

  • Improper building materials used indoors (fire retardant ones)

  • Improper hallway sizes for emergency egress

  • Improperly built stairways

  • Illegally built stairways

  • Electrical system not up to code

  • Insufficient exit signage

  • Additions to the building without a permit ... both minor (walls) and major (whole additions to the building)

  • No certificate of occupancy for any of the tenants

  • and last, but not least, ignoring multiple court orders to close the warehouse down

Yeah. No shit. Who knew it was a fire trap? I'm shocked, SHOCKED I say! Honestly, I'm really not surprised. The fire marshall came a few weeks back to do his inspection. This means someone got pissed at the landlord at some point in recent history and reported him.

I feel sad, really. As many warts as that place has, I had some good times and some good shoots there. I feel sorry for some of the other tenants. One lady put in $25k worth of improvements to her place there. The guys at the Hookah shop had only been there about two months I guess. Another photographer had just moved in the week before and prepaid three months of his rent.

Rumor has it an angel investor has come in wanting to take over the place. They say they have good relations with the fire marshall, city council, and the mayor's office. They own a few other properties in Austin and are willing to get things fixed and right.

But, only if the current tenants stay.

What a quandry.

The tenants met Friday night to discuss their options. They're investigating a lawsuit for return of all back rent and deposits because the landlord made the contracts under false pretenses. At a minimum, it was illegal for him to lease out the place without getting it rezoned for multi-tenant use and getting certificate of occupancies.

We looked at a new place on Sunday. All seven of us met there after the Austin Strobist meetup. At first glance, this place would be an absolute dream. Sadly, it's too much. The owner of this property was willing to cut us a deal for the first two months, but even with that, we're still talking over three grand once you include deposits, utilities, and first month's rent. I knew it would be too much for us when I walked in. Going from a one room studio with a community restroom to a four room plus storage and a private restroom is just too much for us at this point. Especially with the economy still in the dumps. But man, it would have been a dream.

Realistically, we need a slightly larger studio with an additional room for prop storage. We'll find something, I just don't know when.

In the end I'm kind of glad to be out of the fire trap. While it worked as a good studio in a central location, it just didn't look all that professional walking into the building. It's a warehouse, plain and simple.

I'm just glad to know what to do in case of a fire: when the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

The photo up top is of Adam. He's one of the local fire spinners here in Austin. He's whipping flaming poi around his body to the sound of music swimming out of his iPod. You can see the body's silhouette amidst the flames.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Panning for Gold

Photos from the meeting mentioned in the previous posting. It was fun, hilarious, contentious, thought provoking, maddening, and occasionally filled with "WTF?!". This is the second time I've done this. It's definitely interesting to listen to the plethora of opinions that come out from the papers we have to review for this conference.


LISA 2009 PC Meeting-5404





Andrew and Paul

Andrew and Paul





Nicole, Mark, and Paul

Nicole, Mark, and Paul

Narayan and Doug

Narayan and Doug

Bill and Mark

Bill and Mark

Cory assaulting the food

Cory assaulting the food

McEniry Photobomb

McEniry Photobomb



John, Mario, Chris, me, Nicole

Bill plays with my camera

We have the POWAH!

We have the POWAH!





Oh foul weather, I am not impressed.

ShuteyeWhat a disturbingly long weekend. I had to make a trip up to Chicago on Friday. Why, you ask? Why, I had a day long meeting to attend on Saturday for a conference I'm helping to organize in November. The conference doesn't matter here. What matters is my Gilligan's Tale and my 12 hour winged boat trip, over hill and dale, passed an archway you couldn't touch, and finally into a rain-swept city that's famous for it's pizza.

Friday started out fine. Austin, as usual, was blazingly sunny, creeping into a mild hotness that's only seen on the outskirts of Hades during their flaming winter break. I took the day off so I could have a relaxed flight up there with some time to spare. Like CattleBecause I was only flying up for the weekend, I wouldn't have much time to explore and some of the others en route were planning a trip to one of the museums. The plan ... it was good and golden and smelled of sweetness.

Things began to go sour when I came close to missing my flight when Schlotsky's employees at ABIA stepped up to a new level of dumbery that I'd not seen since ... well, do you remember that I Love Lucy scene where they're in the chocolate factory and the chocolate just keeps coming and coming and coming? No? Here's a refresher.

Anyway, the sandwich makers were doing everything possible to screw up orders. The bread just kept coming, slamming into orders ahead like a bad pileup on IH-35. No one slowed down and everyone with a receipt just got closer and closer, rubbernecking with the best. When I finally got my food, they were one group away from closing off the door to the jetway and launching the plane. I boarded, found my seat with every intention to eat on the way to Chicago, and settled in for a short three hour flight.

DeterminedWe were all summarily booted from the plane 10 minutes later. O'Hare was closed thanks to Mother Nature. No problem, take off time reset to 3pm. I sit out in the waiting area munching on my food and chitchat with a female soldier on her way back from Iraq. She'd been over there for a 12 month tour. She's ready to go home. She's on her way to New Hampshire to pick up her kids, one of which she hasn't seen since the kid was 15 months old. It was pretty heart wrenching listening to her talk though. You could tell she was done with flying.

So, 3pm comes and goes, we all board and ... the O'Hare that had been opened had just been ... closed. Again. This time we were booted from the plane only if we wanted to be booted. Everyone Reads, Everyone WaitsI stayed on the plane and read. The camera got pulled out to start documenting the hilarity that I knew would ensue.

5pm comes and everyone starts piling back into the plane. O'Hare is open! Mad rush to the seats. Mind you, we're at groundstop number two and we haven't left Austin yet. It's now freaking hot in Austin. It's also storming in Chicago so badly that they have tornadoes. Or warnings, at least. But, the pilot thinks the can time the flight so we land in between two of the larger feeder cells that are swamping Chicago with cats, dogs, and wicked witches with striped stockings.

We taxi out and ... no, no ground stop. We actually make it off the runway. Now, every time I take off in a plane, I'm reminded of the scene in Firefly where they're zooming through the planet and Wash is piloting the ship. He says, "I'm a leaf on the wind, see how I soar." Well, I think about this line every time I fly. In the LightI don't know why. Just a weird quirk. It's not like I expect a wooden spear to slam through the fuselage of the plane and stab me in the chest. Hey, it could happen, but I'd prefer it didn't.

So the flight is merrily cruising along. We're singing Kum-ba-ya, Leavin' on a Jetplane, and other campy things. Well, not really. But the image is cute. So, again, we're cruising, we're cruising, we're cruising, we're ... why did the plane just slow down and begin descending? It's only 6:20.

The captain comes on and says, "Uh, folks, I'm sorry to tell you this, but O'Hare is closed again. They just had a feeder cell close up our one projected opening. They're not letting anyone in, so we're being diverted to St. Louis."

The Flight LineGroans throughout the plane.

I got to see the arch in St. Louis though. Well, from about 10 thousand feet up. We land at the airport and get parked out on the tarmac. People are pretty antsy by now, unsure if they were even getting to Chicago by Friday night. By this point, I texted a few folks to give them a heads up.

Ever play the game "Telephone"? You start it by telling something to someone, they tell it to someone else, and eventually it gets back to you? I was doing that with SMS. Found out that one of the other folks flying into O'Hare was also stranded in St. Louis, but he was off his plane and renting a car. We agreed to meet up if my plane didn't make it off the ground again. As all of this is occurring, people are requesting to be let off the plane, so someone comes out to the area we're parked in and hauls them back to the terminal. I decided to play the numbers and see if we'd take off again.

Sunset over AmericaAs time drags on, we're all getting a little more restless and ... one of the passengers coming from Austin pulls out this box of cupcakes from Hey, Cupcake! He proceeded to cut them up and pass them out with the help of the flight crew. That made everyone a bit happier. I'm not sure if he was a Hey Cupcake employee or not (he was wearing one of their shirts), but no matter what, it was a great thing to do.

8pm comes and the pilots come on the air. They're negotiating with the tower and ATC to get us off the ground before the other planes in line because their reset time is quickly coming. If we didn't make it off the ground by 8:15, we'd immediately go to the terminal. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. And then we'd have to wait even longer for a new crew to arrive. Damn legalities. I managed to get a beautiful picture of the sunset in St. Louis. I wish I had been on the left side of the plane when we took off again because the view was gorgeous.

Back of the BusSo, we got off the ground a few minutes shy of the reset time. There was much rejoicing and cheering for the pilots. The remainder of the flight was uneventful. Off to the east, we could see the ginormous cloud fronts trailing off towards the east. We were traveling at 27 thousand feet. The cloud tops were easily up at 45 or 50 thousand if I had to guess.

We got to O'Hare and visibility was about five miles. Crystal-f'ing-clear. All that was left to do was land, get to my bus, and get over to the hotel before I collapsed.

The Sunday flight back was relatively uneventful. Thankfully. I saw the soldier again. By this point, she had managed to get up to New Hampshire and retrieve her kids. You are free to move about the cabin.They were walking off to some other gate so I didn't get a chance to say hi. She looked happy and more relaxed with her kids in tow.

Spent a few minutes at O'Hare on Sunday taking photos. Airports are an interesting place to capture the lives of people. Always in a rush. Or not. Always pissy. Or not. Just a daily grind, all compact and neat, shoved into a building surrounded by tankers of jet fuel and exhaust.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Links for 2009-06-17

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

FlashZebra.com: Clamp Style Flash Shoe (Item #0137) Flash coldshoes for speedlights. (tags: photography equipment flash shoe coldshoe)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Holy Exploding Thermostats, Batman!

LaceyYes, if Robin was my assistant on Saturday that's the phrase that would have ripped from his mouth. By 10:30am, it was 85 degrees and I was dripping wet. I'd been talking to this new model for a few weeks hammering out what exactly we were going to do. The place was the Cathedral of Junk. The color was pink. Funny. I had that Aerosmith song playing on the stereo the night before and thought nothing of it.

We arrived at the Cathedral a few moments apart. There was a crew pulling up in a yellow box truck, delivering stage parts for a show from the look of it. I hadn't thought much about it until after she stepped out of her car and they all just stopped and stared. She was decked out in a black and pink corset, pink fishnet gloves and, and black fishnet stockings with matching pink stripes. It all went together pretty well. But yeah, these guys stood there for a moment taking her in.

MischeviousI walked over and introduced myself and we went into the backyard after I'd pulled my gear out of the car. She'd never been there before so we did a brief walk through so she could get a feel for the place.

Now, if you've never been to the Cathedral of Junk, let me describe it to you. First the Cathedral lives in a quiet south Austin neighborhood just off of South Congress. You pull up to the residence and ... well, you don't see it. It's a nice little neighborhood. You have houses and flowers, trees and dogs, and the occasional white picket fence. But as you approach the gate, you catch your first glimpse of the Cathedral. The structure is ever growing. Magnanimous and BeneficentIt lives and breathes as it's owner, Vince, finds new ways to build upon it. There are bottle sculptures, junk walls, the inner throne, buttresses, stairways to heaven, and even a crows nest of sorts.

One of the photos I'd wanted to get was of her sitting on the throne in a distinctly magnanimous and noble way. The Cathedral is a fantasy and she just fit into it like a pink and gothic fairy. Unlike the cake, this is not a lie. We chatted a bit while I set up one light. With space tight within the inner workings of the Cathedral, I opted to ditch the umbrella and go with a hard light. It was sunny inside, so I just needed to offset the blast of light and try to overpower it a bit. One thing I realized is that I miss using my D40 for times like this. Extreme ambient control and still usable with the SB's and the Pocket Wizards. 1/1600th of a second was sorely missed that day. But I made due with the D300 and some stopping down.

LaceyOne thing new that I decided to try was CLS in TTL mode and just using the flash compensation settings. I'm mixed over this. Because there was such a large amount of ambient coming from the sun, I had problems with it picking the wrong exposure value to set on the flash. If I had to do it again I'd use it in manual and just dial everything in. But, it was hot, getting hotter and I wanted to move fast before I passed out from heat exhaustion. Glad I picked up a few bottles of water for us to partake in during the scene resets.

LaceyWe ended up shooting in four areas: the throne, the bench, the alcove, and the archway. The throne was my favorite. I just love the way she looks there. The archway followed. I wanted some fill coming in from the sun bouncing off the ground and light coming in from the clear, blue sky. I really like the look of that northern light. It is delicate and different from flash. The slightly blue tinge to it just does it for me (and I really want to play more with it; just need to find a good place with a bunch of quality northern light coming into a large window).

By 11:15, I was packing up and calling it done. It was just too hot to be comfortable. I knew I'd gotten at least one good shot. We chatted for a few minutes and then parted ways. The Cathedral was definitely a worthy place to shoot. Even if the heat DID almost kill me. ;-)

Lacey in the alcove
The lovely lady in the photos above is Lacey Starr. I met her through Model Mayhem. She was definitely fun and easy to work with. I had her laughing shortly into the shoot. Once that happened, I knew I'd be shooting with her again. And as for the pink? Yeah, I can see how Aerosmith finds it an obsession.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Where's your missionary?"

Serving the Beans
Foreigners cannot enjoy our food, I suppose, any more than we can enjoy theirs. It is not strange; for tastes are made, not born. I might glorify my bill of fare until I was tired; but afer all, the Scotchman would shake his head, and say, "Where's your haggis?" and the Fijan would sigh and say, "Where's your missionary?"

Mark Twain A Tramp Abroad

Catfish FryerSouthern fried catfish. Covered and smothered in the hardiest cornmeal batter you can find and dropped into a vat of oil rolling and seething with the fury of the seas boiling before a hurricane. Add some golden fried chips, a splash of tartar sauce, and a hushpuppy or three? You have the makings for some good eats right there.

Work had their annual picnic recently. The main course that was catered in was catfish, cooked on the spot, served hot, and all you can stuff down your gullet. Definitely a photo-op to be sure. I don't remember the company they brought in. It was the Manchaca Fire Department (Manchaca Firehall). They pulled in a large trailer replete with refrigerators packed with catfish, a rather large prep area, and four or five deep fryers. Boiling OIlThe more people ate, the more fish they battered and sacrificed to the gods of Canola and Flame.

The lines for the food stretched from one end of the building to the other. People chattered and kibitzed, but only in the politest of manners. There was a table full of lego men. Yes, I said lego men. One of the odd traditions, I've discovered. They (as in the group, not the lego men) have team building exercises wherein groups race to build dozens of lego men and the winners get ... more lego men. But all the ones that are built throughout the year get bundled up and given away at this picnic.

Strange, I know. What more could you ask for from a team building experience?

Catfish ... the other white meat.Now, where was I. Yes, they gave out lego men. I picked up one of the medics. Why a medic? I used to work with a Vietnam Vet and he'd occasionally pipe up and yell, "MEDIC! I'M HIT!" whenever something bad went down in the environment. So, I had to pickup a corpsman and stretcher to keep on my desk. Oddly enough, the medic and I soon parted ways when I gave it to my office mate. He objects to the lego men. Something about zombie hordes of little plastic men coming to take over the world or something. Or maybe not. I can't exactly remember. I just recall the look on his face when I placed it on his desk.

But, back to the story. I'm finding that the camera is going with me everywhere most days now. Especially with the new lens cranked on there. I swear, it's practically welded on by this point. Knowing that there'd be a few hundred people at this picnic, it went along with me. I encountered a few other photogs there. They were focusing on the event in general. Catfish and chipsI was just having fun. With my camera and my heaping plate of food, I grabbed a chair and camped out at a table next to my friend Scarlett. I stole a few shots of her food because it looked more interesting than mine. But then, it was more interesting because I'd eaten most of my catfish and hadn't yet gone back for seconds.

I ended up being joined by a few of the associate VPs. Funny that. I had to be on my best behavior. Wouldn't want to make a resume-altering statement in front of three of the most powerful people in the group. So, I mostly ate in silence and occasionally took a photo or two. When all was said and done, I finished off the afternoon with the remains of what was on the table. Empty plates, full bellies, and nothing but trash.

Burp!One of the AVPs commented how good my camera was when the photo of the trashed remains came up on the screen. I pointed out it was the photographer that made the photo. The camera, unlike the photog, was just a tool.

I think it went over their heads.

They still liked the photo, though. And me, I was fat, dumb, and happy. Full of catfish and ready for a nap.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Whoops! and Give in to Sin

Michelle ManxOk. Shame on me. It has been not quite a month since my last posting. I shall hang my head in shame. But fear not! I've been taking photos like nobody's business. I promise I'll be keeping it more steady and catch you up on what I've been doing.

Last week was Give in to Sin. This was a benefit for Sinsations in Austin. Their lease expires in less than two months and the owner of the property has decided not to renew it. Morgan wasn't expecting it, so a bunch of people helped get this benefit together for her so she could have the funds to move. Morgan does quite a bit for the local community with the other benefits she puts on, so it was time to give back.

The show was at Red7. There were bands, burlesque, boobs, beer, art, and spankings. It was a pretty great show with lots of interesting folks walking around in not so much. Met some cool people too. Here's some more of the evening.

The full set of photos can be found on my myspace page (mostly because I was lazy and didn't want to use flickr).

The art:

Amy and Morgan

In the art booth

Morgan and Riot

The comedy:

Austin's Lizardman

The fun:

Swinging in the breeze

The burlesque:

2009 Give in to Sin-4799

Michelle Manx

The flames:

Flaming Swords

Poi Spinner

The bands:

2009 Give in to Sin-4987

2009 Give in to Sin-4845

The Band