Austin photographer strikes a chord with poignant book featuring housebound musicians
The Austin music scene isn’t over, it’s just at home.
Live music photographer Ismael Quintanilla III offers the beloved community some support in the form of I Am Here All Day, a hardcover collection of photos and writing from 138 local artists’ digs. The 240-page book archives each artist’s personal experience of the pandemic with short quotes, manifestos, declarations of skepticism, and emotional outpourings.
In addition to re-engaging artists with the community that cares for them, the project is contributing donations to related local nonprofits. Funds raised will be shared between the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), the SIMS Foundation, Free Lunch, the DAWA Fund (the ATX emergency-relief grant program created by the Red River Cultural District), and Austin musician Gina Chavez’s own Niñas Arriba College Fund.
The project started when Quintanilla was reading features about frontline workers. The photographer wanted a similar look into local musicians’ lives while they were stuck at home, playing alone — if at all — and losing necessary income. He saw a way he could contribute, as well as an excuse to get out and check in on his friends in the industry.
“I figured I want to give myself a certain experience of love of human connection, and that, for me, was the outlet to be able to carry with that,” Quintanilla says.
The first photos taken for I Am Here All Day were of partners Sara Lisbeth Houser and Taylor Wilkins of Otis the Destroyer. In separate images, Houser sits at a piano gazing hopefully up and off camera, while Wilkins directs a deadpan gaze straight at the camera through an open window. Both mentioned a surprising sense of relief to have some mostly involuntary rest because of the changes the pandemic brought on.
Houser explains on the page opposite her photo, “For me, quarantine has been a much-needed pause on life. … I habitually packed my schedule for years, so the forced simplification that quarantine brought was really needed.”
The name of the Quintanilla’s book came from a phrase often repeated when scheduling photos, a sudden departure from many musicians’ busy schedules. The cover — a restful image of Pleasure Venom’s Audrey Campbell through a window busy with objects — follows a similar format to many throughout the book. According to Quintanilla, even though some bands are playing with limitations, Pleasure Venom is holding off on their usually high-energy shows with the intent to come back with full force, and no sooner.
“I chose that image because it just has that vibe of, like, ‘I’m here all day,’” says Quintanilla. “‘I’m kind of just waiting ... waiting for things to come back.’”
The frequent window shots throughout I Am Here All Day spoke to the photographer in terms of reclusion, intimacy, and distance from the viewer. The book is full of arresting lines and right angles, oddly structuring a period of uncertainty. But not everyone had a suitable window to be shot head-on. In one portrait, Topaz McGarrigle of Golden Dawn Arkestra reclines slightly next to the fire while playing a saxophone. The scene is nearly universal for musicians enjoying a quiet moment in informal meditation, and an unusual sight from the outside.
Quintanilla spent time encouraging photo subjects to be vulnerable, something a concert photographer rarely, if ever, has to reason with for performers onstage. Two members in The Guacamole Police, Quintanilla’s own band, had a head start in trusting the photographer with their one-on-one portraits. The normally colorful Gina Chavez appears in a simple denim shirt. Meanwhile, Felix and Sloane Lenz of Lord Friday the 13th appear as if they’re actually onstage.
Quintanilla says of Lord Friday the 13th, “They’re amazing, creative people. And I truly believe that that’s how they live their lives.”
The book’s April 1 release coincided with the sudden widening of vaccine availability and subsequent opening of music venues, but the need for funding is far from past. Quintanilla points out that many venues, in considering their timelines for reopening, are feeling the pressure to represent the music industry to a public they could be endangering with just a few small mistakes. He recognizes this is only the beginning of a long recovery, and knows that even outside of a pandemic, musicians are always in need of financial assistance and more accessible health services.
“My goal is to just continue,” Quintanilla says. “As long as people are buying the book, I’m going to continue printing. So, my goal is to donate $100,000 ... whether it takes a couple of months, whether that takes a year [or] more than that.”
I Am Here All Day is available for purchase at iamhereallday.com, with 100 percent of profits from the $50 e-book and the $100 hardcover book going to Austin nonprofits. A public Spotify playlist including all photo subjects accompanies the project, and the virtual livestream concert that celebrated the release is available on YouTube.