If you walk to Shoal Creek streaming through Austin, you'll see a lot of fascinating things. Like Southern Louisiana Cooking and Shoal Creek Saloon: the last outposts of the Austin-as-we-knew-it that is increasingly surrounded by the Austin-as-we-did-not-know-it-but-soon-apparently-will.
It is rewarding to photograph Austin because Austin is full of ephemera that itself knows it would not make it into tomorrow. I am not too sentimental in regard to Austin, as this is not the place of my childhood or youth. But I do catch myself on a regret seeing how too many things are about to dissipate in the nether. It is fair to say that I did not pay these things any attention apart from an attention of regret.
Shoal Creek is a shallow creek quietly streaming its greenish waters across a basalt plateau.
The promenade along Shoal Creek is marked as Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail. The creek will undoubtedly see changes quite soon. By now, some parts of the creek are swallowed by verdure, and for a moment the spring greenery affords you a possibility to forget that you are at the heart of the city - its less frequently visited part anyway.
A combination of lush verdure and green water against the modern buildings produces a strange effect between the feelings of being present--and absent. It is as if you're walking through a prehistoric garden with skyscrapers populating the horizon. Even if you know that the garden is very much "historic." Of course, it has a history. When I first came to Austin, Austin often evoked in me the phantom memories of dinosaurs roaming prairies. Not only that, but contemplating the strangeness of the Western civilization on this continent, I acutely felt that this land belonged to other peoples.
Shoal Creek is no doubt a gentrified creek, so to say. Farther from here, across the 5th street, the creek has been taken into a vortex of constructional activity. The pavement is being constructed further on. At the sight of this frantic activity (beyond the lens of the camera), I could not help but wonder about the temporality and ephemerality of one's existence, of the human body. What is a human being against this mazelike multi-story cemetery, which is a city, endlessly perfected by those who will be dead tomorrow?
Cities are merciless; cities outlive citizens. As I sometimes do, I take on an imaginary point of view of my son who is walking these shiny streets with me. He is a child, and he witnesses Austin as a child; Austin observes him in its turn; Austin sees a child. If we are all happy, my son and Austin will outlive me--and then (I hope, in some impossibly far-away point in the future) Austin will outlive my son.
Austin is not a city of my childhood, but it is the city of the childhood of my son. It makes Austin special to me. And I want to picture the young city and my young child, together, as if for a family album that I know we will never have. A photo album is an almost entirely outmoded form of hosting, managing, and dare I use this funny, fashionable verb, curating memories.
The passage to the other side of the 5th street is currently closed. One should switch the shores of the creek, turn around, or ascend the stairs to reemerge in the city.
For several years now I have been looking forward to photographing the enterprises that I passed riding an LA bus, now 663, to the university every day. The enterprises bear the proud names: Austin Urban Pet Center and Kung Fu Saloon. I wanted to picture them for two reasons: the cuteness of their designs and decorations that compliment the motto Keep Austin Weird so well. And the knowledge that they will not sustain here for long. And I did. I photographed them both, when it was almost too late.
A new high-rise building that sports a truly weird slogan Packed With Amenities. Not People on one of its sides, apparently displaced the Center. Amenities, not people (neither animals) should appeal to the new inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Kung Fu Saloon has a from-the-get-go-nostalgic SCORE 20120919 and rows of pixelated shuttles and critters on the black wall. Kung Fu Saloon is next to be demolished. It is already surrounded by the fence.
What now? Do I want to subscribe to the urban nostalgia always rising its voice whenever another enterprise that you never even visited gets destroyed? To do so will be a ready response not in any way more profound than the proclamations that the new amenities-driven and conveniently peopleless urban spaces should take upon the place of these dubious little businesses. I do not have to subscribe to either of these narratives... I am not selling anything. But where do my affinities should lie? Is a balance between "the new" and "the old" possible? Is it even desirable? Should not we clear the road for the new? Should not we, to the contrary, regret and fondly remember the past? Both? Neither?
But the stories of gentrification and construction, of progress and modernization always unfold on someone else's territory and at someone else's expense. They reproduce the familiar patterns of injustices and inequalities. That is what Austin faces today, and to that the city should, and will, one way or another, respond. I will be there - to observe and to record.