James Anthony Johnson

Oftentimes I think we have it all wrong.  We continually strive to be better than others, whether it’s in business, politics, sports, or even the arts.  We set the finish line as some unattainable, imaginary goal that exists only in the ego. It’s a race that will go on forever with the majority of our lives’ being spent pushing, pulling, clawing, grasping, and trying to somehow reach the pinnacle of this ever growing pile of excrement that has been deposited all around us.  And all this effort just to be able to breathe. Nothing more. The race never stops. There’s no space or time for imagination.  The individual must sacrifice himself in order to feed the machine.  Sound depressing?  Well, lucky for everyone, the race isn’t mandatory.  We can simply resign.  We can bow out gracefully and just go home.  Home to our family, home to our friends, and most importantly, home to ourselves.  But what then would we have to strive for? Where is the reward in resigning? Well for starters, I don’t think there will ever be much reward in endlessly reaching for the unattainable.  And resigning from the race doesn’t mean quitting your job and moving out to wilderness to live off the land.  I’m talking about resigning from the constant worry of how we stack up to others.  To cease thoughts of becoming superior to our neighbors, in exchange for being the best You than you can be.  How many of us can say that we are the best versions of ourselves? I know I can’t. But what if that is what we strove for? What would happen if we took off the war paint, stopped looking all around us, and simply looked within?

I don’t know much about James Anthony Johnson other than that he often can be heard picking his guitar and singing country and bluegrass in front of the South Congress Cafe’.  When I asked him if I could take his picture, he humbly said ok and pointed me to a flyer tacked to the telephone pole which depicted a much more clean shaven version of himself and billed his upcoming performance at Austin coffee house, Strange Brew.  I listened to a few songs.  He played with passion.  His fingerpicking was flawless.  He was good.  No, he was better than good.  He offered no pretenses from underneath his mirrored aviators.  He asked for nothing but he gave it his all.  He appeared to have bowed out of the race long ago.  He could probably be famous if he wanted to be.  He probably doesn’t want to be famous.  He probably doesn’t want to do anything other than be James Anthony Johnson.  And that’s ok.





Nathan and Raymond

Nathan and Raymond

When I moved to Austin in the spring of 2007, I had no idea I would still be here seven years later.  Since college, I had never lived anywhere for more than a year or two.  I moved here for a number of reasons, but at the end of day, the only reason that still matters is that Austin offered me the opportunity and proper environment to start a new business.  Had I known that we were about to go head-on into a global recession, I probably never would have left my job to start a new venture. But somehow, Austin seemed to exist in its own little economy, sheltered from the recession by some unknown force, boasting some of the lowest unemployment rates anywhere in the U.S.  Even today, with home prices down all over the country, Austin seems to somehow be in the middle of a housing boom.   But even for all those reasons, I think what is most appealing about Austin is the fact that it is just a six hour drive home to South Louisiana.  I didn’t place much emphasis on it in my younger years, but as I have gotten older, I have started to realize the importance of family.

I had seen Raymond before, perched in his wheelchair behind tables of hand blown glassware, explaining to potential customers the intricacies and nuances of all the different types of glass he had to offer.  On this day, his son and business partner, Nathan, sat off about ten feet away, tending to some paperwork.  Having been a U.S. Marine, and having traveled all over the world, Raymond said he always returned home to Austin.  He talked about many things, but became very serious when talking about the existence of God.  He has no doubt that God is real.  He didn’t have much to say about religion, just that God was very real.  When I asked him how he was so sure, he told me a story of how he was shot in the head defending his home and family in a burglary some years ago.  He was pronounced dead and left unattended for about 45 minutes, in which time he says he came to know the truth, and in which time he decided he wasn’t ready to die.  Nathan was young, and Raymond was a single parent.  He said you can tell your children till your blue in the face the difference between right and wrong, but the only way to truly teach them is to show them.  And so Raymond decided that there was a lot he still needed to show his son.  As Raymond lay there apparently lifeless, a nurse was asking a patient next to him if she needed assistance, and at that, Raymond lifted his hand and said, “I could use some help over here.”  And it looks as though Raymond held up his end of the deal.  I only talked to Nathan a little, but from what I could tell, he had a definite respect for life, and a deep connection with his father.

I feel lucky to live only six hours from home.



Adam Lozoya

Adam Lozoya – Street Pianist

In 1991, Austin adopted the slogan “Live Music Capital of the World” after it was discovered that they had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the nation.  And so now, with annual festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin has naturally become a mecca for musicians and music enthusiasts alike.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Austin also has a very eclectic mix of poets, painters, sculptors, photographers, designers, and pretty much any type of visual artist that you can imagine.  Now don’t get me wrong, Austin is no New York City.  But despite its location in the hill country area of central Texas, where locals jokingly refer to Austin as a “little blue star in a giant red state,” it’s done pretty well for itself.  And having all it has to offer, and at less than half the cost of Manhattan, well, let’s just say it attracts all kinds.

Take Adam for instance.  He lives an hour north of Austin, in Belton, and for Adam, Austin is his New York City.  When he’s not busy playing weddings or traveling, you can find him most weekends somewhere on South Congress Avenue carting around “Little Bertha,” his saved-from-the-dump, self-restored, piano on wheels.  He’s often spotted with his percussionist, Alex, but on this Sunday afternoon, he was playing solo on the corner of South Congress and Gibson Street.  I heard him long before I saw him.  He was covering Coldplay’s Clocks, but from down the street, all I could see was a white feather, bobbing up and down and protruding from a top hat made of straw, as he belted out the song’s iconic intro.  He had tried tirelessly for months to get a license from the city to be able to play on the street corner, but eventually decided it was useless to bog himself down with red tape while trying to follow his dreams.  And so he just started showing up, wheeling his piano to any corner on South Congress that would have him.  And no one seemed to mind.  And from the looks of his tip bucket that day, he’s doing pretty well.  His goal is to make enough money to move here.  In my opinion, being an Austinite isn’t about living in a certain zip code, or how tight your pants are, or even how big your beard is.  It’s about waking up every day and taking it a little further that you did the day before.  So whether I have the authority to do so or not, I bestow upon Adam the title of Honorary Austinite.


You can follow Adam on Facebook at




Carol J. Stensrud


As I do most mornings after setting up for the Gibson Street Artisan Market, I walked down to the end of the block to Jo’s Coffee Shop, where the line frequently extends beyond the curb, and into the busy street that is South Congress.   On this particular morning, a brightly dressed woman, talking loudly on her cell phone, not particularly being rude, but with more of a “I don’t really care what anyone thinks about what I have to say” attitude, came walking up to Jo’s.  At once she told whoever was on the other end of the line to “hold on a second” and then proceeded to let everyone in line know that instead of extending the line out into the dangerous street, that they should wrap it around the corner so as to not block the sidewalk.  It made sense.  Not to mention that standing in a busy street before you’ve had your morning fix of caffeine probably isn’t very smart.  No one moved.  She wasn’t giving up though.  She stood her ground around the corner and let us all know once again that we weren’t doing it the right way and that she was simply trying to help us.  No one could deny her logic.  I know I couldn’t.  And with that, the line slowly and reluctantly snaked its way out of the avenue and onto the safe curb of James Street.

Now I’m not one who’s been too particular of shooting street portraits when I hit the pavement with my camera, but in this moment, I felt compelled to try something different, to extend my normal boundaries, and to venture into a whole new realm.  I wanted to take her picture.  But having a deep seeded fear of approaching strangers, I chickened out.  And it’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity.  She stood directly behind me for the entire 15-20 minutes that we waited in that line.  I could have turned around at any moment and started a conversation.  But I didn’t.  I felt defeated.  I ordered my tea, paid, and walked around to the pick up window.  I decided to sit at the bar while waiting for my tea to brew.  I was looking over a few shots I had taken earlier that morning when I heard a familiar voice say “That’s a real nice camera you got there.  It’s big!”  I looked up.  It was her.  In an instant, I knew what I had to do.  This wasn’t coincidence.  I immediately knew I was being given a second chance to face my fear.  And without hesitation, I smiled at her and began to tell her about my not so great Nikon D200.  We talked for 10-15 minutes about things such as art, books, and the influx of hipsters in Austin in recent years.  Somewhere in there I asked her if I could take her picture.  She gladly obliged.