Sometimes, the best stories are in the small details – this image is, for me, a terrific example of that. And it’s the perfect example of the image I never set out to capture, but that lives on as one of my favorites.
Several years ago, I was commissioned by two different hotels to shoot at roughly the same time in San Antonio and New Braunfels, Texas. That led to a great trip. Helen, the kids, and I flew to San Antonio and spent a couple of long days shooting the river walk, the local historic architecture and several missions (at one of which, I’ll never forget, our young son Jordan braved a nasty attack by red ants).
From San Antonio, we drove north to New Braunfels. For the uninitiated, New Braunfels, Texas is a water wonder not to be missed. The two centerpieces for the community are the Comal River, filled with inner tubes gently gliding downstream and ending in a man-made white-water chute, and Schlitterbahn. Schlitterbahn is the Disney of water parks – it rises up out of the unsuspecting Texas landscape with massive scale and is a siren to children and teenagers for hundreds of miles in every direction. Shooting in New Braunfels was a treat I hadn’t anticipated.
Once finished in New Braunfels and with dreams of returning there one day to idly play in the water, rather than re-trace our steps, we continued north to Austin. Austin is, of course, the capital city of Texas and there we spent an afternoon and a morning shooting. It was the end of an intense week focused on photography – and so while Helen, kids and I were determined to capture images of Austin, we also tried to remember how to relax without being tied to a shot list and the sun’s trajectory. In short, we sat down for a meal in a restaurant and took a moment to breathe.
Still, there were icons to be photographed. I captured a few images of the capital (with amazing clouds as the perfect backdrop), as well as various landmarks around the city. Lunch was up on South Congress, the strip of funky shops and great restaurants just beyond downtown. There we strolled up and down the avenue scouting out where we wanted to park ourselves for lunch – which also gave me a chance to photograph this eclectic neighborhood. Here is where I slipped on the 70-200MM lens and started looking for details. Whenever I see a street lined with interesting shops, my instinct is invariably to go for the details. The broad shots rarely do a street like this justice – to capture the spirit and fun of a neighborhood, I am invariably drawn to the fine points.
As I scanned the areas just above the street level – this is where I traditionally find the most interesting subject matter – I was not disappointed. There were murals and architectural details to be captured. It was a feast for my lens. I was blissfully having fun, delaying lunch as long as reasonable, when I spotted the cowboy riding a giant rabbit. The sculpture was great – but then underneath the sculpture was the sign for the store Uncommon Goods. My challenge was instantly clear. Capture the image so that the word “uncommon” was framed perfectly below the jackrabbit and cowboy. There stood my perfect story.
I love so much about this photograph. There’s the dilapidated air conditioner just to the left of the rabbit. To the left of that is the curtain pinned back as if an invisible person is staring back out at us. There are graphic elements that run horizontal and frame the picture toward the top and at the bottom. And now that I’ve told you, you can see the start to the letter “G” at the bottom right, but the truth is this isn’t a distractor. The word “uncommon” is centered with room enough to breath on either side – and the cowboy and his rabbit are off center to the right. I couldn’t have asked for a better composition.
I’m sure I laughed as I took the picture. After I stopped laughing, I put my cameras away. I had the best shot of the day in the can. It was time for a wonderful, well-earned, relaxing lunch with Helen and the kids.