Center of Mexican American Studies
Center of Mexican American Studies

Platicarte with John Langmore

Photographer John Langmore discusses his new work "Fault Line: A portrait of East Austin"

Tue, September 22, 2009 | Texas Union, Governor's Room, 3.116

6:30 PM - 7:30 PM

As was inevitable, I began this project with an ill-defined sense of purpose. I am an outsider to East Austin, and even more so to its Hispanic and African American communities. Yet even to an outsider, East Austin's rich and textured community is apparent. And to say that the sweeping hands of change are moving faster now than ever in East Austin, with no chance of being turned back, is almost a cliché. Simply to freeze the hands of time for just a moment, so that we can savor what is East Austin, is reason enough for this photographic essay.

Yet there is much more that merits documenting. In East Austin, life plays itself out fully in twenty square blocks. And it does so on the surface for all to witness. You watch young men struggle with life's temptations and disappointments right before your eyes. Five minutes and two blocks later you can have the most inspirational conversation of beating the odds you've ever heard.

East Austin's real story is the product of struggles, not the stuggles themselves. East Austin brings out the qualities we all cherish in the human race. People fight the odds, endure and take pride in their conquest. I couldn't find a scene west of I-35 of two men sitting on a bench, trading stories and sharing a beer unless I staged it myself. That scene, common in East Austin, conveys the sense of community we have forsaken in so many places and which is borne of a common stuggle and the kinship it inspires.

Yet the undeniably defining quality of East Austin is the grace, hospitality and charm of its residents. Nowhere have I ever been more quickly and completely embraced. To lose this quality in our city will be a loss of unspeakable proportions.

But like so many American cities today, Austin is consumed by what is new. Its collective gaze is on the horizon, not the nearby rooftops. By necessity, civic leaders talk of what can and should be, not what is or has been. And as is so often the case with human habitation, we displace that which attracted us to a spot in the first place.

That the gentrification disrupting so many working-class neighborhoods across the country will work its hand on East Austin is a certainty. The dividing line between east and west Austin is no longer creeping east from I-35, it is moving quickly as though it were wet paint poured on a blank canvas.

While change is inevitable, that does nothing to alter the fact that it is also most often lamentable. Change in East Austin is lamentable because of what we lose. Lost will be an important history, a strong and deep-rooted sense of community and a patina that exists nowhere else in a city vying for its spot on the lists of America's 'coolest' places to live. East Austin is not a blank canvas. In fact, it is much like a Picasso - complex, disturbing when viewed from certain angles, beautiful when viewed from others.

The purpose of this exhibit is to reveal, and more importantly, to celebrate the beauty, the history, the charm, and the perseverance of the people of East Austin.

-John Langmore

Sponsored by: Center for Mexican American Studies, College of Liberal Arts

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  • Center for Mexican American Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    210 W. 24th Street | Mailcode F9200
    GWB 1.102
    Austin, TX 78712