Austin Texas photography blog by Ben Sklar

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SxSw crossing

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Yesterday the New York Times Styles section published the cross section project I shot during the South by South West Music Conference in 3 of the 4 days during the festival.  Serendipity must have been on my side because I was basically being hired to shoot an assignment I had already assigned myself. My photo editor left the assignment pretty wide open and gave me a lot of creative freedom – 4 full days and plus an assistant, seamless and rentals.  I really enjoy shooting style and I was really excited to work with friend/super-writer Melena Ryzik again this year — she gets major props for dubbing the project “Big Whitie.” Please read Melena’s style article — there’s a great quote from Michael Cera — and view the slideshow NYTimes’ Josh Haner and I worked on relating to Melena’s story.

The project was intended to show the intersections of humanity that converge on Austin during SXSW. After the Times Styles section called it seemed like a perfect fit.  The city of Austin estimates that around 200,000 people come to Austin during the 10 day festival, but capturing the mass of this audience in a decipherable way is a challenge. Often there are so many good pictures everywhere it’s hard figuring out what to shoot when you’re out on the street. The project was premeditated and planned out in its conception, but free form and totally open to any possibility in its execution. Some people liked to jump into the wall, some people shielded their face when they saw a camera, some people thought we were shooting somebody famous, but my favorite was the 35 to 45 year old male groups that would stop and pose with their bros beckoning me to take a picture of them while they did something ridiculous. Usually I stared back at them or acted like I was on my phone while they yelled at me. The photos varied so much from crowds of people with hidden surprises in each image to individuals passing through solo in silly costumes or really stylish attire. Austinites really bring out their best during Sx — trying to impress the New Yorkers.

Logistically we used a step ladder and a bar seat with lots of gaff tape to hang 2 pieces of 9 and a half foot seamless to a wall. The extra hands came in handy here in taping the paper to the wall while supporting it, traffic passed by and the wind blew.  From there we set the camera on a tripod and hoped people would walk over our pretty white paper covering a really dirty sidewalk. The below photo was taken by Josh Haner:

This first day we sat between a band’s van and trailer which made us a little inconspicuous. Other days we weren’t so lucky as the street became more clear pedestrians started to walk around us. Most people just walked through, but sometimes people would stop and pose, other times I asked people to stop if I like their attire (because this is a style piece after all) or walk through if they were near by and wearing something really cool like Watusi the pharaoh (yes, I bought his cd):

I also owe a huge thanks to my girlfriend Maria for putting up with me during Sx and driving me to find a parking spot near the shoot location, Jake, Bruce and the Plush Bar staff for letting me do this, my friend and assistant Josh Verduzco, The NYTimes crew Josh, Miki and Melena for being supportive and giving me valuable feedback the whole time in executing this project, Beth on the photo desk for trusting me when I told her “I have a lot of great ideas for this,” my friend Ray on the NYTimes Multimedia desk who put the whole thing together and Tom who worked with Beth on editing the photos. Also, gotta thank my amigos Lance Rosenfield for stopping by and making some snaps (photo credit below) as well as Matt Norris for hanging out and breaking down with me on day 3.

I also owe some credit to the Kent Ave crew – Drew Anthony Smith, Joe Buglewicz and Jordan Gomez who turned me on to this concept and inspired me to go make it happen during SXSW. The festival was really the perfect opportunity to do this.

Without all these people none of this would have been made possible – THANKS!


Written by bensklar

March 25, 2011 at 10:47 am