iPostcards from Austin 2: The Other Stuff

Columnist Eric Anderson sets out to explore Texas' capital city with only an iPhone in tow. How does the smartphone's lens stack up against a traditional camera?

My camera bag is empty. All I have is my iPhone 4S as a camera. Would you care to continue with me around the capital of the Lone Star State to see what might be achieved with the wide angle and macro capabilities of a smart phone?

There is more to see in Austin’s museums than the Harry Ransom Center memorabilia from Gone With The Wind. There’s a majesty to the State Museum in Austin, a somber dignity as might be expected of a state that fought so hard for its independence. But formality is, nevertheless surprising in Austin, a university town of young people seemingly less interested in the past than the present. Top left: Sam Houston; top right: Stephen F. Austin. Center: coat of J. Kent Trinkle, MD (1934-1998) who, according to the Texas Transplantation Society, performed the first heart/double-lung transplant in North America to treat emphysema in 1988 and the first lung transplant in the world to treat pulmonary hypertension in 1989. Bottom image: A young woman uses the rotunda to celebrate a special coming of age.

The Blanton Museum of Art

Stacked Waters by Teresita Fernández was installed in the lobby in 2009 as 3,100 square feet of custom acrylic that critics say gives an illusion of standing in the bottom of a swimming pool. It certainly gives the reflective quality of water for 2 visitors who agree to pose for my iPhone. Bottom image: James Drake had an exhibition until January 2015, Anatomy of Drawing and Space.

If LBJ approved of assistants he’d call them “Can Do” people. The replica of his White House Oval Office would not fit into the architect’s space so LBJ authorized a 7/8 decrease for the LBJ Presidential Library.

The acclaimed short story writer William Sydney Porter, (1862-1910) who wrote with the byline O. Henry had as colorful a life as Texas itself. He was a pharmacist, a sheep rancher, a cartographer, a bank teller and even a convict. The O. Henry Museum in downtown Austin on East 5th Street showcases his life essentially before he went to prison for alleged embezzlement. He and his wife lived in the house from 1883-85.

Docent Julia Collins demonstrates a map O. Henry drew for the State Land Office. Inset: a cowboy illustration he added to one of the maps. Inset: his pen and inkwell.

O. Henry’s hat and shaving cup. Photo with his wife and daughter. Their bedroom.

The University of Texas at Austin shows its presence everywhere in the city and the iPhone 4S camera in turn shows its first weakness; even with HDR involved and even with a finger touching the screen to indicate where the main interest and exposure lies. The contrast in the scene is too much. The tower in the brightly illuminated background overwhelms the foreground where 2 graduating students stand in the shade. This tower is the one from which in 1966 former Marine and engineering student Charles Whitman killed 16 and wounded 32 firing mostly from the 28th floor observation deck.

The Yard Dog Gallery brings the bravura of Austin right into your psyche. It’s wild, unsophisticated and irreverent but it sure is in-your-face forceful. It believes in repetition so if you don’t get it the first time take another look. If you want a humorous take on Civil War Generals check out Kurt Herrmann’s stuff. “Painting,“ he says, “has few absolutes.” Maybe so, but I absolutely preferred Jennifer Harrison’s colorful villages of acrylic polymer. Middle Image: Illustrated in the center is her Ten Green Kitchens. Bottom image: Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds is almost next door on the 1500 block of South Congress Ave., perfect for parties or Halloween or just if you want to be camp and hip like all the young people in Austin. And who’s Lucy? The owner’s Border Collie who “loves to dress up, cover herself with faux diamonds, and sing along with the Beatles.” By now I’m realizing Austin is not Boston.

On the same block sprawls Uncommon Objects, another cool store that tells it like it is. Its ads and reviews explain: “So much bling” “Raw materials for creative living!” “Strange gifts for anyone!” “Antiques Mecca!” Its owner Steve Wiman, earned an MFA in studio art from UT in 1986 and opened the antiques shop in 1991 in SoCo (South Congress business district) with a group of 5 dealers; it now has more than 2 dozen.

Attack is the best defense so what has been described on Yelp.com as the Cathedral of Junk lists its exhibit, up front, brazenly as “TrashVegas.” Yelp is sometimes useful as a source of information, but it suffers, as does TripAdvisor, from the profusion and confusion of contradictory examples of people’s opinions. On Yelp, for example, opinions on this colossal pile of scrap vary from “Best thing I’ve seen in town, keep Austin weird,” to other more negative ones from persons such as, ”The artist was really rude. I would not come again. Jen T. Houston”; and “The owner is kind of mean. Justin K. Brea, Calif.” to a detailed report from Sheyenne A. in Round Rock, TX who describes explosive anger in the owner there that “gave her quite a scare.”

I had the same experience. I paid the $10 admission. Looked around and, on leaving, asked the simple question: "How many items do you have in the collection?" The owner went berserk and almost physical. Then he held up both forearms to demonstrate the undersurface tattoos that said "Go. Away." That there are issues there would surely be an understatement.

So is his pile of junk architecture interesting? Is it worth a cautious visit after properly studying recent Yelp reports? Would I go back? Yes, maybe, no! There’s an Eliot Glazer vulture.com video here.

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I am still wondering about the iPhone and its camera. I find iCloud needlessly expensive beyond its basic free account. And iTunes creates problems for senior citizens like me with little need to listen to contemporary music. My biggest problem is transferring images from my iPhone 4S because Apple with its (useful at times) obsession to sync smartphones and computers makes it difficult for my iPhone to be recognized most of the time by my PC simply as an external hard drive. Yes, there are solutions at Google Search to address this very issue but once you have used the sync capability it seems to become the default and hard to go back.

Photography by the author

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians. Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written 5 books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.