Carlsbad Caverns provided challenges for proper lighting, but Brag figured it out.
Buddy guy performs at Austin city limits.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's statue on the riverfront in Austin.
Gus's fried chicken is a legendary joint in Austin and Memphis.
“So I get up and drive the 45 minutes to the caverns. I’m part of the second group of photographers heading down into the caves, and there’s no tour guide at all. You’re just a group that’s let down into the hole. Nobody’s telling you about stalactites … nothing at all. There’s an occasional sign down there, but very few guideposts.
And you’re going 751 feet down.
One might think it’s cool down there, but it’s actually somewhat humid. I ended up tying a jacket off around my waist. It was so warm. And so I’m snapping some pictures. And as soon as you start going down to the entrance light changes in spectrum. Light does change as you start to go down. I’m getting all this weird stuff as I take photos, so I started to adjust it and got into the darkness and started seeing what the light was doing, and trying to reorient to what it looks like. And they had interesting areas with little floodlights. It was making that area real white and blown out. So it’s hard to turn your camera down so you get the detail of the rock without making everything else around it black.
I emptied out most of the stuff in my bag because I didn’t know what kind of track it was going to be in there and I was shedding as much weight as I could. I went around, shot all my stuff. And then I started playing around and found the true colors of the rocks. I figured I’d put a polarizing filter on and see what this thing does tomorrow.
And so instead of walking out, I took the elevator up and out, headed back to the hotel, charged the Tesla, and edited my photos for the rest of the afternoon.
The next day I’m up early. I’m super excited. I didn’t even eat breakfast.
I was on the eight o’clock tour, which meant I was gonna be the first one down the hole and I knew that I’d have the whole place to myself. This time, I immediately went straight down the elevator, knowing it would take an hour and a half for everybody to come walking down to me.
Got there and went down the elevator right off the bat; snapped a picture with a polarizing filter and it worked pretty good. Okay, not completely good, but good. Way better than it was.
I have to do a little bit of adjusting and it took me about a half an hour. And then I found it; just bam bam bam bam bam. Shooting what’s called the Big Room down there. The Big Room is so big. It’s just one of the chambers. You can fit the Houston Astrodome inside of it. Oh my god. Wow. And the millions of stalactites and stalagmites everywhere.
So that was done in two hours. And some people came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you know how your pictures turned out?’ And this one gal said, ‘I want my pictures to look like yours.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s figure it out here.’ I helped about a half-dozen people with their cameras that morning. It felt great.
I’m now on my way down to Austin, about to start phase two of the trip. And phase two is picking up Bob Calder, my lifelong friend from Florida, at the airport in Austin.
While driving, I’m listening to music. Loud. I’m drowsy and I know that I’m really struggling. I’m tired. And I know that Bob said that he would do 90% of the driving. Once I picked him up, I was like, I’m done with all this damn driving.
I’m up early; grab a Denny’s breakfast and just drive into Austin. Huge state. Lots of poverty. I get to Austin at 2 p.m. There was a music festival happening on the waterfront near the Stevie Ray Vaughan statues around the park about half a mile away. All these people are out. Yeah, it’s warm out and it’s just beautiful. It’s just, it’s awesome. Walking along the river there toward the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue I come across these people and we’re all talking about stuff and one of them is one of the bands that’s going to be performing later at the South by Southwest Music Festival. And Dolly had played the previous night.
All I knew was that the next night I was gonna be shooting on Austin City land. Well, that’s big and nothing that was gonna tear me away from that. That’s almost as big as it gets. I’m looking for some good soul food or something like that. The same Gus’s Fried Chicken that in Memphis is in Austin.
And so I go get fried chicken and now that just brings me back to such beautiful memories of back from 2017 when I got flown into Memphis. Bobby Rush was doing a benefit for prostate cancer awareness and he was doing it with Buddy so they chose me to be the photographer for the tour.
And Bobby says to me, you know, ‘I’m hungry. You want to get some lunch?’ And he took me to Gus’s in downtown Memphis by the waterfront and it blew my socks off. They made him wait in line just like everybody else.
The ‘problem’ is this vacation needed to be twice as long – with just the same itinerary.
I got a place by the airport because Bob’s plane was getting in at 10 o’clock.
So I get Bob at the airport at 10 and we drive around Austin and I said let’s go to the downtown area and I want to get an Antone’s Nightclub T-shirt. Antone’s is a blues bar in Austin where Stevie Ray Vaughan came through, and some others
I got my credentials around 6:15 p.m. and I was down near the stage, shooting my thing. At some point in the show, Buddy walks out through the crowd. In the old days, what we used to do is, they’d hand me 10 guitar picks of Buddy’s and if I saw someone who would really have their day made, right as Buddy walked by I’d just put one in their hand.
It’s fun to do. And the one thing I like to do is, if we’re in the neighborhood of the folks in the wheelchairs, I make sure everybody in that row gets a guitar pick? If nothing else, I make a mental note of it. If we’re not close to them, and when the show’s over, I make a beeline for that area and hand everybody one.
So we start off down the main aisle, and we’re about halfway through it and this person reaches out to touch Buddy, which is a big no-no. And I move in that direction. The person backs off immediately. Buddy goes by me and I follow him; he then makes a turn and now we’re going parallel to the stage, past the soundboard. And then Buddy goes to the bar in the back and wants to have a drink while playing. This girl comes out of nowhere wanting to hug Buddy. His guitar technician, jumps in there and gets his elbow working a little bit and has to fend her off and ends up becoming quite a little internet hit in the Buddy Guy circles.
And that was pretty funny … Buddy and I are still not making eye contact. But Austin City Limits has several lights from all directions.
After the show I’m hanging out with the band and get into a pretty lengthy conversation for a while and it’s around two o’clock in the morning before we’re all done and go our own ways.