Dalton Bend – Brazos River 2012
Goodbye to a River is a book about the Brazos River by John Graves. He actually did a canoe trip from Palo Pinto County to Hood County several years before the river was dammed at De Cordova Bend to form Lake Granbury and the book is a retelling of his trip, mixed with local legends and stories about the history of the area. There were many dams proposed on the Brazos, but ultimately only three were constructed, and this was partially due to awareness raised by this book. I think of Graves as the Upton Sinclair of North Texas, and he is legendary in these parts. He died recently after a long life in one of the most beautiful areas of this state. This is the big island at Dalton Bend just upstream from a canoe rental place ran by the Rochelle family. They are good people and I have been going to this spot since I was a kid on camping trips with my father, who grew up on the Brazos. He taught me about plants, how the fish and animals move, where to catch bait, where to set trot lines, and a lot more. If you are fishing in the evening try water just below rapids at about two to four feet of depth. The fish move up into these areas at night to feed on minnows and other bait fish.
This spot is very powerful, magical and has immense energy. There is a massive limestone shelf on the upstream side of the island which is great for swimming. The water is deep here. This is the kind of place you think of years after having been there with a sense of longing. You always want to go back. This was Comanche country back in the 1800’s, and that is distant family to me, on the paternal side. Maybe that’s a part of the connection my father and I have with this place.
Now there is a lot of mining and industrial activity in the area, and I always see many dead fish when I go there. My father recently told me he no longer trusts eating fish from the Brazos, although he lives further downstream in Hood County. Industrial activity also has taken a toll on that part of the river. Certainly things have changed since my days as a boy back in the eighties, and not just at the river. I’d like to see this place again in the future, but something tells me my journeys in this part of the world have come to an end. That means new beginnings and there are big changes coming in my life. Goodbyes, new places and new faces. It is time for a change after 37 years in the Lone Star State.
I highly recommend Graves’ book for those who are interested in Texas History, the Brazos or just interesting reading.
Untitled, Dallas Dog Parade, 2010
“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film.” – Arthur “Weegee” Fellig
Street photography is how I learned to make images. I had the good fortune to learn the medium in the late 1990’s. just before the digital revolution. This was at Richland College in Dallas and I received a great photographic education there from Wayne Loucas and Roy Cirigliana. I suppose the attraction is to some degree the anticipation of those gems that present themselves unexpectedly, wild art as they call it in the newsroom. We looked at many many photographers and I was always drawn to the work of street photographers like Winogrand, Friedlander, Bresson and of course Weegee.
Getting in position was the hard part in making this image because there were several other photographers there, and we were competing for a good spot. One of them actually growled at me under his breath as I was getting in position. For me it was about this magical moment, the breathless moment Weegee describes in the above quote. Weegee was sort of brash and gruff fellow, and this quote always struck me as being oddly out-of-place with that projected personality of his. Tender almost. Needless to say the other photographer failed in his efforts to scare me off and I was rewarded with this lovely image. There have been many such instances, times I had to push things a bit to get the image I really envisioned. Don’t let fear get in your way.
For more on bravery behind the camera I recommend the video “I Fight With My Camera” with the late, great Charles Moore:
Paluxy River, Glen Rose, TX. 1998
“The full weight and mystery of your art rests upon your relationship to your subject matter” – Keith Carter
Rivers have always been a central theme in my life. My father grew up on the Brazos River in Granbury, Texas. We spent many weekends fishing, hunting and camping along its banks. There weren’t many fences even then and a person could roam the countryside for hours and not see another soul. I also spent a good deal of my teenage years living within walking distance of the Brazos and spent many summers exploring the river bottoms, catching minnows…….and catfish. If you haven’t had catfish caught straight out of the river and cooked fresh right on the river bank, preferably in an iron skillet, then you haven’t had good catfish!
The Paluxy River is a tributary of the Brazos and this image was made in Dinosaur Valley State Park not far from the confluence of the two waterways, or from where I lived as a teenager for that matter. I was using Kodak HIE Infrared film for this image of a boy and what I assume is his mother walking along the bank of the Paluxy. His mother’s shadow I should say, as she is not yet in the frame in this image. It was a perfect circumstance, and it reminded me of so many things from my own childhood as I sat perched on the cliff that overlooked the bank watching them explore.
There is an excellent book called Goodbye to a River by John Graves which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of the Brazos, especially in and around Palo Pinto County.
Untitled – Dallas Zoo – Dallas, Tx. 1997
‘Reading an image, like the reception of any other message, is dependent on prior knowledge of possibilities; we can only recognize what we know.’ ……. ‘the innocent eye is a myth’ ~ Ernst Gombrich
It had been another long day of grinding out photographs, this day found me at the Dallas Zoo. I had been studying Gary Winogrand and the zoo seemed like a good place to make images. You never know what will happen while out in public and being aware of things that are developing around you is important. This boy was with his mother and presumably his younger sibling who is in a baby carriage just out of frame. In fact, the boy is standing on the carriage. The brass rail was probably four to five feet off of the ground. His mother was digging in a tote bag for a bottle to feed baby and I saw the boy climbing the carriage, trying to get over the rail. Mom’s back was turned. I planted myself on one knee and framed the image while alerting the woman of the boy’s shenanigans. “Hey lady, your kid is climbing over the rail.”, I said. The hand came in and grabbed the shirt and this was unexpected. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had the presence of mind to make the exposure. I recognized myself in the boy. His curiosity, willful sense of adventure kindled something in me. It drew me in and the whole thing seemed natural and effortless.
Seeing photographically is a topic I will touch on time and again because it really is key to this process, especially when working in unpredictable environments with fast developing action. Moments happen quickly and are very easy to miss. Consistently capturing these moments rather than letting them slip away is the mark of someone who is seeing photographically and are prepared…….in the moment. Photography taught me how important being present and in the moment truly is. It has a funny way of making these (re) connections and that is one of many things I love about the camera and seeing photographically.
Afternoon Stroll – Dallas, TX. 2010
“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson
It had been a long day of image making and I was getting a little tired. I was in Dallas, Texas working to document a large protest centered around the recently passed Arizona profiling law. The event had taken place peacefully and was winding down, around 25,000 people were making their way out of the downtown area. As I stood on the sidewalk getting a drink and a breath I was drawn to the reflections of passers-by in a nearby storefront window. There was a reflective coating on the glass that slightly distorted the image and of course everything was inverted. I wanted to enhance this effect and was fascinated as always with the idea of making an image of an image. I started adjusting settings and doing test images when I noticed the couple shown walking down the street with their baby in a stroller. It was a cloudy day. F/5.6…..1/15th of a second….ISO 200…. Monochrome Mode. Pan slowly. Overexposed. Many steps away from reality.
Overexposure is a big no-no in digital photography and this image was captured with a simple Canon Rebel DSLR. In film we expose for shadows and in digital we do the opposite, exposing for highlights, if we are following the rules. I had been following the rules all day and wanted something different. Once again I was in one of those situations where I knew there was an interesting image, if I waited and was prepared. Having an idea of what kind of image I wanted was helpful and the distorted window provided the perfect canvas on which to make this ‘light drawing’, the literal meaning of the word photograph. The slight overexposure gave me the graphic effect I wanted as well as the time needed to properly pan the shot, and I knew this from practice and experience. I love moments when intuition and spontaneity combine to produce these unexpected images. Maybe they are bending time over at CERN as well …..but if so they won’t tell.
TV – Commerce, Texas 2012
“The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.” Ansel Adams
I captured this image at an event in Commerce, Texas back in 2012. This was an opening at a small art gallery and I was there to document the festivities for the owners and featured artist. This image has always caught my eye and drawn me in. The boy’s expression, the shallow focus where the only sharpness exists in the text….yet another symbolic substitution for reality, work together to create a dream like quality in the image. Almost as if it is a rendition of a time so long past it barely retains a space on the outermost fringes of memory. The way the text, focus and boy work together evoke memories of my own childhood…I could be this kid. I was this kid, a long time ago.
I recall capturing the image, seeing the boy walking up to the window and feeling that something visually interesting was about to happen. I had time to make a few quick decisions before this moment passed and was able to open up the aperture and get the text that reads as “TV” in the photo where it is placed. The rest of it was waiting for the right moment to press the shutter button. In all I would say about 45 seconds to a minute passed during this time. When you hear photographers talking about getting in the right frame of mind to make images they are in part referring to getting yourself in what I call “photo vision” mode. In other words, you are seeing photographically and responding to events which unfold around you accordingly.
When we think of making photographic images in these terms the quote by Adams is driven home. If we are in a frame of mind in which we tell ourselves that the work we are doing is easy or even superficial, will we push ourselves to do our best work? Of course not. In fact, we have crippled ourselves and made true understanding of the process and its importance unattainable. We have led ourselves to creative disaster because we have closed our eyes and are no longer seeing. One of the reasons I love photography is because it taught me to open my eyes again and see wonder in the world and that is a great gift.