Photographs by Michael O’Brien
Poems by Tom Waits
by Andrea Ball
Stephen Blair stands on the corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Fifth Street, holding a large book against his chest and tapping his own image on the cover.
"That's me," he tells passing motorists, holding out his empty Starbucks cup and silently begging for spare change.
Blair, 55, is the face of "Hard Ground," a new coffee-table book filled with photographs of Austin's homeless. The black-and-white images were taken by Austin photographer Michael O'Brien, whose work has appeared in publications including National Geographic, Texas Monthly and The New York Times Magazine. The photos are accompanied by poems by O'Brien's longtime friend, musician Tom Waits.
Blair's portrait — a tight shot highlighting his dark eyes, tousled hair and full beard — is the cover shot.
"It was timeless," O'Brien says of the photo. "There was sort of an innocence, a fragility and vulnerability."
"Hard Ground" was inspired in 2006 when O'Brien, 60, saw a lull in his freelance business. To stay busy, he volunteered to take photographs for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a local nonprofit that bring meals to homeless people in parks and other public areas. But when the volunteer job was done, O'Brien kept taking photos. Read More »