travel

Downtown Houston Tunnel System by a zugunruhe

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What began as a short tunnel connecting a few buildings in the 1930's has slowly evolved to nearly seven miles of color coded corridors that allow pedestrians to navigate downtown Houston without being exposed to 100 degree weather with 100% humidity.

Inspired by the underground system at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, the system grew for different needs. One early adopter connected a few of his theaters just to save on air conditioning. 

People are usually shocked when they first hear of the tunnels. Those having lived in and around Houston for years (even their entire lives) have no idea this system exists. They immediately assume it's some sort of urban exploration trek, akin to a large sewage passage or abandoned subway tunnel.

In fact, they are painfully boring.

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Imagine a mall that hit its peak two decades ago or a regional airport terminal. Wandering the carpet-covered walls in the mid-afternoon reveals a florescent-lit ghost town twenty feet under the city. Through a good chunk of the near-Brutalist geometries of the meandering hallways, it feels like you just snapped out of a day dream only to realize you have been working a soul-crushing job for the last thirty years.

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This is truly a utilitarian design.

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The entire experience isn't doom and gloom. The labyrinth has grown into a popular service station during the lunch hour. The hallways are populated with banks, doctors, barbershops, and cleaners, but mostly filled with food court-esque restaurants. Short stretches are adorned with Houston memorbilia ranging from sports to NASA.

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Turning corner after corner in this tiled bunker can dull all senses. Every so often you are rewarded for your resolve by a visual breath of air. Windows offer that escape, either exposing you to a courtyard or reminding you of the magnitude of the buildings you are under.

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Only a small area was undergoing construction after damage from Harvey. In 2001, after Hurricane Allison, large metal doors were put in place to seal the entire area off from flooding. Shipbuilders came in and fitted doors akin to submarine hatches across the tunnel system. As only a short stretch was affected, I'm sure a lot of small business owners throughout are incredibly grateful for this level of precaution.

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The tunnels serve a purpose and offer an interestingly banal view of the people and companies that use them on a day-to-day basis. In fact, this is one of the few places I've visited where one of the more popular places to eat is just called "Chicken Etcetera." Looking forward to its future rival, "Food Here."

There are multiple ways into the tunnels. The only street level entrances are at Wells Fargo Plaza and McKinney Garage. All others are in the lobies of buildings and aren't too hard to discover.

Amtrak I - 22 Texas Eagle by a zugunruhe

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I have a love for the slow travel experience of trains. The way one is lead through small towns and fields to urban centers. Seeing how big and varied this country is, is a long-term romance of mine. 

Since I’m familiar with Amtrak at this point, I want to share these beautiful views for each line I take.
 
The first is the 22 Texas Eagle. The 22 denoting that it’s the north bound of the line, and 21 being the south. The 22 starts in San Antonio and ends in Chicago, IL. The passenger goes though Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, St Louis, and numerous small towns along the way.

The beauty of Amtrak is the little things you see along the way. Snaking highways appear as rivers, watching small towns slowly build up to its Main Street then quickly dissipate, and the endless fields that pass by the train windows hypnotically. 

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During the day, I aimed to use the window's reflections and people as muses.

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At night I turned to black and white while still using the constrictions of windows. The less active train and the desolate lighting of long stops gave the feel of film noir.  

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Before long, I was solely shooting through windows. Being constrained to the framing was an incredibly fun challenge, considering the speed of the train. 

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And then I found the portholes at the end of the cars.  

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This presented an even greater obstacle. I had very little warning before something appeared, and often having a second or less to get a shot.

I attempted to time shots in order to peace them together as fictionalized scenes set across the entire line rather than linear scenarios.  

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Baltimore by a zugunruhe

Baltimore is a city I've been wanting to visit for a long time.

I can't say that I knew anything about the area until I became obsessed with Dan Deacon, Death Set, and anything connected to the Wham City collective over a decade ago. I realized that this place was fostering a scene that clicked with me for some reason. 

The first time it hit me that the fascination was real was in 2009 when I flew to Chicago to see the Wham City Round Robin tour with my friend, Miranda. Split over two nights in a reclaimed church, the event consisted of 8-10 bands in a near circle, trading sets every few songs. The idea was that there was no front row and it was pure party. The two nights, Eyes night for slower and visual music and Feet for the dance and punk acts, were my first introduction to Showbeast, Future Islands, Beach House, and many others including my re-intro to Jana Hunter, the Houstonian-turned-Baltimorean that had left for greener pastures. The bands were driven from city to city in retired school busses that were fitted with engines that could run on discarded vegetable oil. There were frequent posts on multiple bands' Myspace page asking for oil donations to keep tour costs low.

Whenever this city is mentioned in the news, it carries the Rust Belt narrative of a former industrial city, ravaged by crime and unemployment. Straying more than six blocks from the harbor in Inner Harbor or Fell's Point could affirm those views. I can't speak from a deep pocket of knowledge but I can speak from what I've seen here and in other cities in the area.

I usually find a strong community of people that pulled together after the bottom fell out of the only industry in town. During boom years, poor commercial planning led cities to lean on one prosperous industry (cars, steel, etc) and once it started to wain, companies cut their losses. This left a void where well-paying jobs and futures existed and is now being filled with anti-capitalist sentiment and a lack of faith in a system that failed them by individual narrow vision.

What this does is create a community that is detached enough from current prosperous industries that there's a lack of influx from Young Urban Professionals to skew the cost of living or cultural landscape. This leaves a city that's large enough to have a scene while leaving artists to have the luxuries of low rent and strong community. 

There's something about cities that lost their charm that breeds these new cultures. New York City in the 70's and 80's gave us inventive punk, Seattle gave us grunge, Omaha set the course for indie bands in the early 00's, and Baltimore produced some of the most amazing and weird content I've seen in years. The infrastructure is there, there's a surge of young spirits from colleges, and all that's missing in some cases is the right confluence of minds.

Having that isolation can be key to creating something wonderful.

Baltimore is wonderful.

Nes/Skagaströnd by a zugunruhe

From March until May I was granted a stay at a wonderful residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. While my stay was interrupted by a visa issue (turns out Europe is a complicated mess of imaginary lines), I was able to hop in and out of the country and experience this quaint seaside village for most of March and May.

I had no idea what to expect when I applied. Having an extended stay in one of the most uniquely beautiful countries I've ever been to allowed me to take the time to fully grasp the features of Iceland.

The washed brilliance of the muted colors, the smell of salt, and the hoards from the newly burgeoning tourist industry I was happy to escape. Everything worked together to give me a perspective that cherished isolated moments and landscapes.

As driving through Iceland is like transporting yourself through a different planet every twenty miles. It was nice to have a more static environment to work within.

I was able to complete a handful of projects that will be out soon. Including a video trilogy (of sorts) based on Icelandic literature (of sorts).

Photos:
Iceland - South
Iceland - North
Lightwaves
Dreamscapes

Videos:
Lyngbakr
LoveDeath
The Space and time You Have Is Real part 1 (soon)
The Space and time You Have Is Real part 2 (soon)

Skagaströnd


NES