My Love Affair With Texas Monthly
I recently attended the 50 year anniversary of Texas Monthly. I reunited with some of my longtime fellow photographers, old friends and D J Stout, my primary art director at the magazine. As it turns out I missed several people that were there that I would have liked to have seen.
It made me want to write about my love affair with the magazine and expound on its importance in my career.
My first two assignments photographically never came to fruition. The first story was about Ted Segal, a man waiting for a heart transplant.
My concept was to live with him so I could be there the moment he received the call. I was in that Eugene Smith state of mind about the assignment. To be honest I vaguely remember all the circumstances, but hospital politics, and a photographer there 24/7 was rejected by higher powers. In a way I get it, there is no guarantee of a successful transplant. Though honestly, no matter what the outcome the images could have been amazing. I did photograph Ted at the beginning, but never in the Smith “Family Doctor” sort of way.
Sadly, Ted died waiting for a transplant. I remember too that they had a heart for him, and for some reason he passed it up. I do not remember the details.
D J ran a controversial cover that illustrated a man lying on an operating table with a hand coming out of his chest. This was before Photoshop.
The second assignment was Hurricane Gilbert. My friend Alan Tennant pitched the story and within a few hours we were on our way to Brownsville.
The hurricane landed in Mexico, so that story too was a bust.
I first met Alan on a hunt for snakes in Cotulla with the artist Bill Montgomery. Alan is really smart and quirky. He handed me 20 dollars and said go get us some rain gear. I said Alan, I’m not dying in a Hefty bag. I went to Whole Earth Provisions, and got properly outfitted for the assignment. I surgically taped my galoshes to my rain suit, taped my wrists. My thought was if I was in water, I was going to float. This cautious attitude was because Alan had frightened me with stories of his hurricane adventures and the inevitable storm surge that we were likely to encounter.
Alan wore cutoff shorts and a T shirt.
I love Alan. I have many good memories with him. He helped me move to Marathon, and eventually moved here himself. He, Dan Klepper, and myself rode bikes all over Big Bend for years. He now lives in Fort Davis with his wife Amie.
You have heard the saying that behind every good man is a good woman.
In D J ’s case is was two good woman, Kathy Marcus and Nancy McMillan.
They both began to give me simple assignments. Mostly portraits of people that the magazine scours the state writing about in three to five hundred words.
They would also suggest me to other magazines.
Then there was Scott Dadich, T J Tucker, Leslie Baldwin, and presently, Claire Hogan, Emily Kimbro, and JK Nickell.
The great thing about assignment work is that it gets you out of your routine, you get to travel, meet new people, meet a deadline, get a check, and see your work in a prestigious magazine.
It’s good on the ego.
I didn’t do any assignments to promote tourism. I probably would have done them early in my life here, but I simply didn’t get those kinds of assignments. I did one promotional type piece about visiting Lake Amistad. It was one of my two covers for the Magazine.
The other cover was of the writer Robert Waller who wrote "The Bridges of Madison County.” It was a fine portrait of the man, but the story was anything but flattering, and frankly I was a little embarrassed by it.
No matter what you thought about the novel or the writing, it was timely and touched a nerve for millions of people.
I came to accept that I was not a cover type photographer.
I called DJ and asked him what was the first story he assigned me for TM, and neither of us could remember. He did say that he remembered calling me for a rattlesnake image, and of course I had one.
The other great thing about TM was getting assigned with a writer. The writers I've worked with are longtime friends, brothers and sisters from different mothers.
Mimi Swartz, Jan Reid, John Spong, Robert Draper, and Sterry Butcher.
Jan and I did story on the Kickapoo Indian tribe. We went to Nacimiento, Mexico where the tribe lives, several times over a few months.
We were invited to listen to but not attend a ceremonial dance for the woman. The Hale Bopp comet was in the sky, the tribal music and the fire is imprinted in my memory like it was yesterday. It was before Jan was shot, and he and Dorothy were beautiful and healthy
I did a story with John Spong on Lajitas when Steve Smith bought the resort and was spending millions to try and make it a destination for the jet set. Smith was about 36 million dollars into the project at that time. I asked him how much would be too much, and he didn’t have an answer. I believe he spent close to another 50 million before he threw the towel in. In all my visits I never met anyone that seemed to have a clear direction. I think Smith himself wasn’t clear either. It hemorrhaged money.
I feel a big mistake made by entrepreneurs is that the desert always wants to be desert. You stop watering and grass eventually returns to sand.
I was in Terlingua yesterday and someone is trying to grow grapes.
What a rabbit out of hat trick that would be.
Wine from Terlingua.
I predict they might get raisins.
Robert Draper and I did a story on Terlingua, and the eccentrics that were drawn to the area.
Apparently they are still here.
It was killing of Ezequiel Hernandez that was my most important work. Again, Robert was the writer
Enrique Madrid, the Sage of Redford, opened doors for us with the family of the victim. Ezequiel was gunned down by the Marine Clemente Banuelos while he was out goat herding. I understood the mindset. May is really one of the hottest months in this area. The Marines were dressed in Ghillie suits, eating rations, and living like they were in a war zone. A young man with a pea shooter snake rifle registered as the enemy. It is said that Ezequiel fired the rifle at something, and the 18 year old Marine fired back killing the boy. It is a sad and tragic story.
I didn’t know what a Ghillie suit was, but my assistant Mike Howard did, and he knew where we could borrow one. I made images of Mike wearing that suit.
Enrique Madrid took my photographs to Washington DC and effectively had the Marines removed from the border.
Needless to say, I am still very proud.
As my career progressed, My photography became the subject of interest.
John Spong wrote four stories about my photographic journeys.
Chasing Shadows when my first book was released, Light In The Darkness, about night work I did. This work was shot on film and before digital photography made Milky Way images simple and cliche’. The Ranch Project, where I photographed a private ranch for a year, and Bloom of The Century, the best Spring Bloom I witnessed and photographed in Big Bend. These articles helped my career tremendously. It established me as “The” photographer of the Big Bend.
Two of my favorite stories though were with Sterry Butcher. Our stars align perfectly because she lives in Marfa and I Marathon.
The Boys of the Dipper Ranch. A family with three hard working young cowboys.
The other was called Cheatgrass.
Holly and Teryn Muench entered a contest to train a wild Mustang horse over a 90 day period and then enter it in to a competition in Fort Worth.
The amazing thing was that they won and earned $50,000. I loved these assignments because not only were they fun, but I learned so much.
The most recent assignment I did was again with Robert Draper, and it was about a family from Borger Texas that stormed the capital on January 6. It may seem like it is out of my wheelhouse. I spent a week in Borger photographing the town. I tried very hard to get the family to sit for a formal portrait, but they never did. Politics aside, I wanted to photograph what I perceived as a close knit family. I could not seem to gain their trust.
Mike Levy, Greg Curtis, Bill Broyles, Evan Smith, Jake Silverstein, Mike Hall, David Courtney, the late greats Jan Reid, Gary Cartwright, and Paul Burka. All the people that work behind the scenes, and everybody that I have mentioned in this letter. You all have helped me become a better photographer. You have supported and promoted my life and my work. You have given me challenging assignments, and helped mold me and my career. I am very fortunate to have you in my corner for nearly 40 years.
A heart felt handshake and a hug. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for believing in the work.