Keeping Austin Wonderful.

danny young smiling, originally uploaded by kirkinaustin.

I don't know how it is in other cities because I've lived in Austin for so long but it's the people who live outside the mainstream paradigm that give our city its sparkle, its life.

Several years ago Zachary Scott Theater put on a play by David Steakley called, Keeping Austin Weird. It was a celebration of the many people who make Austin such a livable city. Musicians, politicians like the late, Ann Richards, the family that paints their front yard like a giant Twister game mat, the cross dressers and tower builders and Elvis impersonators.

To give a face to the project I went around town and shot images of notable Austin human landmarks. One of them was Danny Young who was known as the "Mayor of South Austin".

He held court at his Tex Mex restaurant in the heart of South Austin (epicenter for Austin's counter cultural spirit and home of the Austin music scene).

I intended to light Danny the way I'd been lighting everyone else for this project: one big soft box, a few lights for the background, etc. But when I walked in he was sitting in a booth next to a window. It was overcast outside by the light was gorgeous as it came through the window.

I sat down opposite him and we talked for a bit. We did the "who do you know that I know game", we talked about how cool Austin was in the late 60's and early 70's. We talked about Tex-Mex food and restaurants. I could have listened for hours.

Finally, I pulled out my camera. I was carrying around a Kodak SLR/n and an 85mm 1.8 Nikon lens. We joked and shot and shot and joked and then shot some more. It was a "minimalist" shoot for me. I usually shoot a couple hundred frames during the course of a session but Danny had me alternately in stitches and tears and I only managed to get 25 or 30 frames that weren't ruined by my laughter.

When I edited I didn't have moment of hesitation....this was the frame. I captured his warmth and his joy.

I heard that Danny passed away last year and I was sad. It was like some foundation of Austin crumbled a bit. The old energy of the city lost some voltage. But I was glad that my career as a photographer gifted me with an introduction to Danny Young.

And it's a constant reminder to me of the transient nature of the universe. And maybe a wake up call to be less conformist and get on with the job of living life on my own terms.

I remember a quote from the Tao that Danny mentioned, "If you look to others for approval they will control you." Something all artists should acknowledge.

Don't shoot for the club, or the client or the approval of a forum. Shoot because your own spirit moves you to do so. Do your job and move on. The accolades will come on their own.