PORTFOLIO THREE • Life and Death
In the last quarter century, we have viewed the state with anger, humor, sorrow, and compassion, and these images do the same.
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In its quarter century of publication, Texas Monthly has viewed the state with anger, humor, sorrow, and compassion, and the 33 images in this portfolio do the same. Largely photojournalistic and occasionally archival, they reveal the endless variety beneath our unifying mantle of Texanness.
We take collective pride in our history, but we also acknowledge and even embrace our keen and sundry differences. We are young and old; rural and urban; black, white, Hispanic, and more. We love our families, our food, and our fun. We work in hospitals and factories, on the streets and by the sea. We weather the here and now and ponder the hereafter. Some of us are the agents of murder; others, the victims.
The selection of photographs documents the diversity of Texans far and wide, past and present, and yet the overall picture that emerges is that of a unifier even stronger than our place of birth: our shared humanity.
Images from the Twenty-fifth anniversary issue are not available online.
The Stories Behind the Pictures
Sisters and Brothers by Jno. Trlica
Granger, “Posed for Posterity” September 1988
THE SON OF CZECH IMMIGRANTS, JNO. TRLICA (pronounced “John Truh-leesa”) became an apprentice photographer in 1902 and went on to practice his trade for more than half a century in the Central Texas cotton-farming community of Granger. Equipped with the equivalent of a third-grade education, Trlica had similarly modest formal training in photography: six 3-day seminars for small-town professionals offered by the Eastman Kodak company every summer from 1909 until 1915, part of a concerted corporate campaign to bring portrait photography—until then a luxury for affluent families—within the reach of everyone. Trlica learned the lesson of inclusiveness well, offering what he called “bread-and-butter grade” portraits—four- by five-inch prints formatted as postcards—at a price affordable to the town’s Czech dirt farmers and black and Hispanic laborers. Regardless of race or income, Trlica’s subjects all stood on the same cheap carpet in front of the same cheesy faux-Victorian painted backdrop. But this portrait of twin brothers paired with their older sisters (who probably received their calling in the Czech Catholic church down the street from Trlica’s Main Street studio) reveals that beneath the photographer’s businesslike approach was an uncanny psychological penetration. The minimalist symmetry of the pose allows us to focus on the subtleties of individual faces—one nun offers a wry grimace while the other is poignantly thoughtful—and intimate gestures, like the linking of the boys’ arms. Trlica has posthumously acquired an almost cultlike status among contemporary photographers as a pioneer mass-marketer whose artistry transcended his own simple ambitions. Michael Ennis
Baptist Church Quartet by Esther Bubley
Tomball, “Texas, 1945 or The Sad Cowboy” December 1981
TEXANS OF A CERTAIN AGE—A PRETTY ADVANCED AGE, at this point—will remember the Humble Oil Company as the best-loved of the big oil companies. Humble was founded by Texans who soon sold it to Standard Oil of New Jersey, the giant Rockefeller-controlled corporation now called Exxon, but all through the middle decades of the twentieth century, it was allowed to operate with a separate name and local management. Even if Humble wasn’t Texas owned, it felt like a Texas company. It was paternalistic.
This picture was taken in a Humble company town—Tomball, north of Houston—by a Standard Oil photographer, Esther Bubley. During the forties, Standard Oil, operating with typical grandeur, hired the greatest photography editor ever, Roy Stryker, to assemble a staff of photographers and document Standard’s operations all over the world. Pictures from the amazing archive of 85,000 images, many from Texas, were published in company publications, in national magazines (this one first appeared in the long-forgotten Coronet), or in most cases, nowhere at all. Bubley was sent to live in Tomball for several months and closely document every aspect of life there. She produced the most extensive examination of one subject in the entire Standard Oil photographic archive.
In 1981, when I first came across the picture of the church quartet, it seemed to me to represent a vanished Texas. There were no more oil-company towns, small-town culture no longer dominated Texas, the Houston suburbs were lapping up against the edges of Tomball, and people didn’t dress like that any more. Now I’m not so sure. What the picture most obviously evokes is devout fundamentalist Christianity—hardly a fading force in Texas life. Hard-working, true-believing middle-class people who don’t care to put a lot of effort into being urban and worldly still occupy the center of Texas culture. They just look different now. Nicholas Lemann
Heap O Cream by Itinerant Photographer
Corpus Christi, “What the Stranger Saw” August 1987
LIKE ALL JOURNALISTIC ENTERPRISES, Texas Monthly’s chief preoccupation is the present moment. But now and again the magazine relaxes the rules and looks squarely into the past. The photograph of the Depression-era Corpus Christi Heap O Cream ice-cream parlor was part of a 1987 photo essay culled from a book by Sybil Miller titled Itinerant Photographer. The book documented the work of an unknown artist, a workaday photographer who drifted through Corpus Christi in 1934 and took pictures of local businesses that he then sold to the proprietors. The images were plain-spoken, starkly composed, and so rigorously observant of their time that, many years later, their unremembered creator seems to have been a kind of recording angel. Stephen Harrigan
Shoe Store by Robert A. Widdicombe
Isla Mujeres, Mexico,“Ambient Color” April 1985
IN 1983 ROBERT WIDDICOMBE AND HIS WIFE traveled around Mexico in a 1965 panel truck, camping along the way to make their money last longer while he took photographs. “I took a lot of pictures of interiors—churches, shops, restaurants—places inhabited by people but without the people in them,” Widdicombe says. “I thought by showing how people decorated their environment I would be showing a lot about them and their culture.” One evening on Isla Mujeres he happened to find a shoe store with a wall full of shoes. “I was floored by the colors and the display,” he says. “I asked if they minded if I took some pictures, and like every place else I went, they were happy to please. At first I was attracted by the color of the wall and the color of the chair, and then by the colors of the shoes, and then by the juxtaposition of these objects in space. I mean, Have you ever seen a wall of shoes?” Gregory Curtis
Hooks Blueberries by Tom Ryan
Dallas,“Cream of the Crops” May 1993
IF ONLY TEXAS BLUEBERRIES WERE FIVE inches wide. Tom Ryan photographed these rotund little beauties for a juicy photo feature that showcased not only the specialty of the tiny community of Hooks but also eight other prize products that put their town on the map—the strawberries of Poteet, the roses of Tyler, the cantaloupes of Pecos, and more. Originally, says Chicagoan Ryan, “I thought, I’ll make these real pretty, like an ad.” But art director D. J. Stout disagreed. “He wanted to show all the natural imperfections,” Ryan says, “not to hide or manipulate or enhance, but to shoot everything just like it was sitting there. The way I lit it added to that—I used a harsher light than I would have usually. It was a real naked kind of approach.” Anne Dingus
San Elizario Chapel by Don Glentzer
El Paso County,“Holy Trinity” April 1992
DON GLENTZER FINDS THE MISSIONS of El Paso “more rustic” than their better-known San Antonio counterparts. Their rather plain adobe-and-stucco construction probably wouldn’t inspire a long-distance pilgrimage. But the Houston-based photographer—who saw the West Texas missions for the first time during this assignment—discovered that they had a beauty all their own, almost an inner light. “I found the essence of their spirit more interesting than the architecture,” he says. “I wanted to explain that spirit through photography.” He hoped to portray the churches as they might have appeared centuries ago, but reminders of the present were difficult to avoid. Because of a much-needed restoration in progress, for example, a network of scaffolding marred the front of the San Elizario chapel. So Glentzer went to the side of the church and snapped a shot while crouched behind a small statue of the Virgin. It was an improvisation that worked wonderfully: Her silhouette makes this shadowy photo even more haunting. Another nice touch, Glentzer concedes, is the flock of birds that flew overhead at just the right moment. Divine intervention, perhaps? Erin Gromen
Fieldworker by Geof Kern
Presidio, “Ninety Miles From Nowhere” October 1983
AT FIRST GLANCE, YOU WOULD NEVER guess that Dallas photographer Geof Kern was responsible for this picture. Kern is famous for highly stylized fashion and advertising photography—surreal images involving willowy models and odd props. Ramona Serrano, the subject of this photo, inhabits a far grittier universe: She was born in Mexico, grew up on a collective farm, and has a total of three years of formal education. But when Dick J. Reavis was writing a story about Presidio, Serrano figured as a main character, embodying hundreds of fieldworkers who live in the vicinity of the isolated border town. Kern’s epic portrait shows Serrano standing in a melon field with some of her crew laboring behind her. It is a startling and novel shot. Accustomed to creating photo illustrations rather than documenting reality, Kern took liberties that photojournalists would never have attempted. The picture resembles documentary work—it’s a shot of ordinary people doing ordinary things. But Serrano is posing, and the viewer can see that she is aware of the camera. In fact, the whole image is highly constructed. “The guys with the canvas bags, I kept moving them around,” says Kern. “I was yelling, ‘Move over there! I can’t see you. Come closer!’” The final effect is heroic, a narrative of labor told in a grand and sweeping manner, as imposing as the mountain range that dominates the background. Helen Thorpe
Funeral Parlor Greeter by Will van Overbeek
Brady, “Just This Side of Heaven” November 1987
THE PICTURE OF BERT TURNER POSING comfortably behind his favorite coffin at Brady’s Colonial Funeral Home is hardly, well, stiff. “Some people love the image, but others say it gives them the creeps,” says Will van Overbeek of the portrait, which accompanied a short article on the retired garbage collector who took up his new profession of funeral parlor greeter at age 78. Because many people think of a funeral parlor as spooky, the photographer says, he liked the contrast of the cold coffins with Turner’s warm, kindhearted face. Van Overbeek says the photo is undoubtedly his best portrait. Others agree—for one, a German financial institution that requested the image for an advertising campaign. When van Overbeek called to ask Turner for permission to reuse the image, he learned that the elderly man had passed away. But Turner’s son granted van Overbeek’s request, although he wouldn’t accept payment for the modeling fee and asked that the check be sent to a Christian radio broadcaster. In terms of kindness, he clearly takes after his father: “Bert,” says van Overbeek, “was a really sweet and innocent man.” Patricia Busa
Former Mexican Revolutionary by Dennis Darling
Baytown, “Compadres de la Revolución” November 1988
DENNIS DARLING, A PHOTOGRAPHY PROFESSOR at the University of Texas at Austin, specializes in subcultures. He has infiltrated motorcycle gangs and the American Nazi party to document them on film, but the band of five he captured for the sepia-toned “Compadres de la Revolución” may be the most exclusive club he has photographed. Darling got the idea for the November 1988 series when, perusing the Sunday paper, he found an item about a reunion of Mexican revolutionaries—the last surviving men who had fought alongside Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Darling knew that he wanted to photograph them before they, too, were history. Jesús González was 86 when he posed for this portrait. As a young boy he had worked as a spy for Pancho Villa, posing as an orange seller while scouting small Mexican towns for information. After being wounded three times in the chest, González retired from the revolution business and relocated to Texas. Darling traveled to the wizened veteran’s Baytown home and snapped the picture, which preserves the subject’s quiet dignity: He holds his chin high and cups his hand to the side of his face. “It looks as if he’s saluting, but I don’t know,” Darling says. “It wasn’t something that I asked him to do. He just did it.” Erin Gromen
Environmentalist by Rocky Kneten
Mustang Island, “The Texas Twenty” September 1996
KNEELING WITH DOWNCAST EYES ON THE SHORE of Mustang Island, his flowing beard haloed by the light of the rising sun, oceanographer Tony Amos, a member of the 1996 Texas Twenty, takes on an almost Old Testament solemnity in this picture by Rocky Kneten. In reality, Mother Nature nearly succeeded in turning the whole photo shoot into a circus.
“I wanted the sun to be directly behind Tony,” says Kneten, “but of course it was rising, and we had only minutes before it was too high in the sky.” Then there was the tide: “I was lying on a little rug on the sand, playing tag with the waves. I’d shoot, move the rug, flop down, take a shot from that angle, get up, and on and on.”
On top of that, the wind was blowing off the Gulf at a steady clip, just enough to grab the crew’s soft box—a light reflector and diffuser—and send it sailing. Says Kneten: “My assistant had to hold it steady, but I also needed him to throw bread to the sea gulls so they would be in the picture. He would run, toss some bread to start the gull action, then race back to hold the soft box,” and they would all hope that the sun and waves and finicky photographic equipment would cooperate. In the end, the frenzy and the hard work paid off in a photograph of exceptional drama. “I initially envisioned Tony as a scientist, not as Moses,” Kneten reflects, “but he does have a certain mythical quality. When I saw that, things began to flow, and I just went with it.” Patricia Sharpe
Deckhand by Raymond Meeks
Palacios, “A Shrimp Tale” October 1996
PHOTOGRAPHER RAYMOND MEEKS HAS AN EYE for sweet heartbreak. This photograph of longtime Palacios deckhand Mauricio “Weecho” Salinas says all there is to say about the drowsy, seedy romanticism of the Gulf Coast bay shrimper. The men (and, here and there, women) who embrace the lifestyle are rustic loners poised on the wrong side of progress. Any day now, ostensibly in the name of environmentalism, the Texas Legislature may render bay shrimpers extinct. No spin-doctor will come to the aid of men like Weecho. Battered daily by the monotony and economic uncertainty of their trade, yet drawn to the sea with a yearning that is both inexpressible and poetic, they are accustomed to harsh breezes thrown against them. Riding the trawler Faye B. with Weecho, I could not take my eyes off his barnacled, wind-scarred face. It’s an image that I thought would stay with me, until Meeks’s photo supplanted it. Now when I think of the Palacios bay shrimpers, I imagine the final day in which the relics cast out their nets—and then, like Weecho Salinas, turn to face the misty air, the gulls, and that infinity where their obscure dreams shall rest. Robert Draper
Family in Floodwater by Doug Milner
Liberty County, “The Unholy Trinity” July 1990
“A FLOOD IS SUPPOSED TO BE AN ACT OF GOD,” I wrote in the story that accompanied this photograph, “but the Great Trinity River Flood of 1990 was more an act of Man. This was a selective flood, inundating some while sparing others, acting not capriciously but in accordance with decisions made, over many years, by lawyers, developers, and politicians.” The system of dams on the Trinity had been designed to spur development in Dallas and Fort Worth and along the shores of Lake Livingston—and to shift the misery of flooding downstream, to people like the Choate family (left to right, Melissa, Jamie, Julie, Christina, and Larry) who live below the last dam on the river. I will always remember this photograph by the late Doug Milner for capturing exactly what it was like on the lower Trinity in May 1990 and for exposing the consequences of boosterism on innocent people far away. Paul Burka
Floating Woman by M. K. Simqu
Dallas, “105°” July 1985
pittsburgh-born m. k. simqu had already drawn notice as an up-close chronicler of gritty street scenes when she joined the flood of Rust Belt immigrants to Texas in 1980. Arriving during Dallas’ hottest year on record, she was almost literally blown away by the infernal heat. “I had never experienced one-hundred-degree temperatures before. When the wind would blow, it was like a furnace against your face. I wanted to escape the heat myself and find out how Texans escape the heat.”
Over three summers, Simqu toured the state’s watering holes, throwing herself into lakes, public pools, and commercial water parks, clicking away at the wet set from close range with a plastic camera ac-quired for a few dollars at a carnival. “I wanted to approximate human vision and not have to show everything in complete detail,” says Simqu, who had previously relied on Hasselblads and Leicas. “[The blurred background] also approximates the way your vision changes in water.” Many of Simqu’s images of frolicking children are so kinetic and immediate that a viewer can almost expect to get his face splashed. But this woman, photographed at a public pool while Simqu treaded water a few feet away, recalls in her transcendent buoyancy our most ancient spiritual associations with water: purification, regeneration, and immortality. Michael Ennis
Boy With Inner Tube by Max Aguilera-Hellweg
Ciudad Miguel Alemán, Mexico, “Faces of the Border” May 1990
“I’M NOT A COMEDIAN. I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER,” says Max Aguilera-Hellweg. “I decided that I didn’t want to take pictures with anyone smiling any more. I found it really artificial.” The unsmiling subjects in “Faces of the Border” are anything but artificial; the unaffected way they look at the camera conveys their natural dignity.
Hellweg, who at 42 is now a pre-med student at New York’s Columbia University, proposed the photo essay because he was a product of a border romance: His father had lived in El Paso, his mother in Juárez. And, since he had grown up in California, Hellweg wanted to return to his land of origin and explore it. He spent two weeks traveling the Texas-Mexico line, starting out in Juárez and ending up in Matamoros. This portrait was taken in Ciudad Miguel Alemán, across from Roma and Rio Grande City, where a group of young men hung out near the river—“The same river that they cross to get to the U.S. The same river that they wash their clothes and dishes in.” Even though Hellweg himself is Mexican American, he says he stood out: “I looked different because of the shoes I was wearing and the jeans I had on, so I had to disarm the situation.” His tactic was to shoot the toughest guy first to win him over, then follow up with the people he really wanted to photograph, like this solemn young man with his prized inner tube. Patricia Busa
Boy With Bee by Keith Carter
Cathedral High School, El Paso, “The Way Out” May 1990
IN THE SPRING OF 1990, WHEN KEITH Carter arrived at Cathedral High School, a Catholic school for boys located on a grim edge of downtown El Paso, he was immediately struck by the incongruity of the place. Here was a run-down school with a student body that was 77 percent Hispanic and mostly poor, yet its achievements seemed nothing short of miraculous: 98 percent of the graduates went on to college.
As Carter roamed the halls of the 64-year-old building, he felt as if he had dropped into a medieval time when education was so sacred it was synonymous with religion. “There were young boys standing in the halls reciting Plato’s account of the death of Socrates,” recalls Carter. “In the dark basement I found a swim team that had won state championships six out of the past eight years. The boys were doing laps in an old pool that was lit by only a couple of naked light bulbs.” He looked around at the chipped paint on the walls, at a chemistry lab that had not been updated in more than fifty years, and wondered, “What kind of magic is holding this school together?”
It was an abstract question, and the bee photo is Carter’s conceptualized answer. He didn’t stumble across the scene; every detail was staged, as if the photo were a painting, not an adjunct to journalism. As his subject he chose Victor Contreras, then a freshman, because of his timeless haircut, starched shirt, and intelligent face. To Carter, Contreras represented the hunger and desire of youth. From the biology lab Carter picked up an object—an enormous model of a bee—and placed it in the boy’s lap. Finally, he posed the boy sitting on the edge of a bench so that he would not be perfectly framed by the background. He also tilted the horizon line of his camera. “It’s all a little off—the big bee, the small boy—and yet somehow it works,” says Carter. “It’s a mystery, kind of like life.” Jan Jarboe Russell
Sunday School by Russell Lee
Corpus Christi, “A Human Focus” MARCH 1987
RUSSELL LEE TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH in Corpus Christi sometime in the spring or summer of 1949. He was a tall, slightly shy man with a rubber face, big jug ears, and a sweet, gentle manner. He was one of the titans of documentary photography. Along with Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Carl Mydans, Lee was one of a small group of American photographers who, while employed by the federal government during the Great Depression, rose to fame with their portrayal of the destitute lives of rural America. After World War II, Lee settled with his wife in Austin, where a University of Texas project called the Study of Spanish-Speaking People, from which this photo was taken, offered him the chance to reprise his thirties documentary work. He later taught photography at UT and lived in Austin until his death in 1986, at age 83.
Lee’s parents divorced when he was five. At ten, he watched helplessly as his mother was fatally hit by a car. His father paid little attention to his son but left him financially independent. Despite this background of equal parts privilege and tragedy, Lee became the premier photographer of gentleness, especially the gentleness of children. Although his subjects were often poor and oppressed, he did not show either poverty overwhelming people or people conquering poverty. Instead he captured the precise point at which manners and habits and social bonds—that is, gentleness—meet adversity head-on. And when has gentleness ever looked more profound than in this photograph of three girls, two looking down at their religious lessons and one looking up toward heaven? Gregory Curtis
The Fernández Family by Bruce Berman
Juárez, Mexico, “Madonna of the Maquiladora” February 1987
TEN YEARS AFTER IT WAS TAKEN, BRUCE Berman’s photograph of Graciela Fernández-Hidrogo still manages to capture all the ambivalence associated with the maquiladoras. In 1987 the factories were sprouting along the border from Juárez to Matamoros, and the promises of economic prosperity for people on both sides of the river went largely unchallenged.
Graciela, who was 29, worked in a plant that made batteries, and I suppose her boss allowed her to be interviewed because something about her manner suggested a certain passivity. Yet she wasn’t passive; life had simply taught her the value of diminished expectations. She knew that the wheels of progress could turn with or without her, and she’d just as soon profit incrementally if she couldn’t benefit any other way. When Berman and I visited, for instance, Graciela was living in an extremely tidy one-room house with seven other relatives. “It was all beds—like a dormitory,” recalls Berman, who has lived in El Paso since the early eighties. “I thought, ‘Here’s a person held up as a success story, and she’s still living in a dormitory.’” The truth, of course, was that a one-room house with a cement floor and beds with clean linens was a big step up for a great many Mexicans, a fact Graciela recognized all too clearly.
Since then, the balance on the border has shifted just as the American labor movement feared it would. The work has left El Paso for Juárez, and there is a very real possibility that it could leave Mexico for even cheaper locales in the Pacific Rim. How much someone like Graciela has benefited remains open to question. “I’ve done that story so many times since then,” says Berman, “and the answer just depends on which days you catch me. But these people are young and they’re working. They’re making something of what they’ve got.” Mimi Swartz
Illegals Squatting By Tree by Robert Latorre
Webb County, “Take Me Across the River” May 1984
ASSIGNED TO PHOTOGRAPH THE LAREDO Border Patrol at work, Robert Latorre recalls, “I get there and get introduced—and one of the guys hands me a bulletproof vest. I’m looking at it and ask if I really need to wear it. And the guy says, ‘You need to wear this or you can’t go.’” The fugitives from Mexico were docile, the agent explained, but the coyotes—the men hired to smuggle them across the border—carried guns. “I put on the vest.”
For three nights Latorre rode with the Border Patrol searching for illegal immigrants: “The agents use searchlights to spot people and then corral them.” They finally found some—about 25 to 30 people. As Latorre remembers the incident: “It was like two a.m. I get out and start running behind this guy who’s got a loaded shotgun. We’re trying to form a circle, but we can’t see anything. Because it was so dark, I didn’t know what the photos would look like. I couldn’t see to focus.” Only when his flash went off could he see the people he was chasing. “You see these eyes staring at you. It was like guerrilla warfare, but not so extreme.”
The photo was one of several that accompanied illegal alien Tianguis Pérez’s story of his journey across the border. “The main thing I remember about this shoot,” Latorre concludes, “is that I could feel the fear.” Patricia Busa
Murder Suspects In Custody by Stephen Shames
Houston , “Blood in the Streets” November 1991
IN THE WAKE OF THE BUSINESSLIKE LANIER era, the chaos that was Houston in November 1991 now seems like something out of another time and place, when funeral home owners sewed their names in big letters on the blankets that covered corpses, the better to be seen on the ten o’clock news. There had been not only a record number of murders—up almost 20 percent from the previous year—but also a different kind of killing.
It fell to renowned photojournalist Stephen Shames to define this new kind of homicide in his chilling photo essay. The young men pictured, for instance, were suspects in what became a particularly infamous case: A group of ten youths from the suburbs, armed with boards and knives, attacked and murdered banker Paul Broussard outside a Montrose gay bar. What struck Shames most profoundly then, and still does now, was the hatred and the nihilism of the kids he photographed. “I was outraged at all the deaths,” he says. “I wanted to do this story to get the public involved. That picture to me is the saddest one in the story because of the hatred. It was scary to see these kids, some of them so hateful and some of them just oblivious.”
If the number of killings has since dropped, the fear of random crime has not. Shames’s photo essay presaged a new era in which we all learned that no one is safe. Mimi Swartz
the question at the heart of “manhunt at Menard Creek” is an unanswered one: Who or what was responsible for the death of fugitive Tommy Earl Haynes, found face down in Menard Creek after being pursued by lawmen, prison guards, and tracking dogs for two days? It is a mystery that has withstood state and federal investigations as well as my own journalistic inquiries. Photographer Scogin Mayo turned the obscurity to his advantage. Although he arrived in East Texas with plenty of sophisticated equipment, he chose to shoot with a one-shutter-speed Diana camera—barely more than a toy, and about as reliable. But Mayo knew what he was doing. “It gives a shadowy, moody, ethereal look to things,” he says. “It’s a very limited camera, but a sense of mystery is what the story suggests, and that’s what the Diana does best.” robert draper
Incarcerated Gang Member by Dan Winters
San Antonio , “We Get All Hyped Up. We Do a Drive-By.” October 1994
DAN WINTERS ALMOST FOUND HIMSELF IN THE LINE of fire when he photographed San Antonio gang members for a 1994 story on the city’s spate of drive-by shootings. During a vicious turf war, he spent six harrowing days photographing ND Posse members, some of whom carried their assault rifles with them on photo shoots. Winters remembers lining up one particular shot when a gang member came running around a street corner, yelling warnings in a jumble of English and Spanish. “All of a sudden, my subject disappeared—everyone standing around me just vanished,” he recalls. “They all hid behind trash cans and pulled their guns.” Winters quickly considered his options, then ducked behind a house with his assistant while a car of rival gang members slowly trailed past them. “It was a real adrenaline high,” he says, laughing. “It scared the hell out of my assistant.”
In contrast to the restlessness of the streets, Winters’ portrait of an incarcerated San Antonio gang member sitting behind the glass of a prison visitation booth captures a moment of unexpected serenity. Under the low-level lights, the inmate looks oddly reverential, his face framed by the halolike glow of the booth’s speak hole. Winters was unsure how to compose the shot until the inmate, who was awaiting trial on murder charges for gunning down two rivals, was led in. “The crime he’d been charged with was so monstrous, and there he was—this skinny, ordinary-looking kid,” says Winters. “I wanted to make him look angelic, to create an interesting juxtaposition with the crime, so you’re left wondering, Why?” Pamela Colloff
Woman Under Arrest by Mary Ellen Mark
South Dallas, “The War Zone” November 1988
THE INNER-CITY CRACK EPIDEMIC OF THE EIGHTIES was at its apogee when Mary Ellen Mark captured the anger and anguish of this freshly detained South Dallas resident while shooting a photo essay to accompany my November 1988 story on the drug’s ravagement of a working-poor neighborhood. Mark, a New Yorker, had been riding with patrolmen in the area when they were called to the scene of a disturbance. The young woman in the photograph “was lying down on the ground when we got there,” Mark says. “When female officers approached her, she became hysterical—screaming and fighting them. I don’t know what she was so upset about. They had to cuff her and put her in the car. I remember they were afraid she was going to bite them. I don’t know whether they took her to jail or the hospital.”
With the waning of the crack siege—the result of targeted law-enforcement crackdowns, mandatory sentencing for many drug-trafficking crimes, and the ever-shifting tastes of the illicit-drug market—this neighborhood, and many others like it, seem to have reclaimed much of their stability. But the resonance of Mark’s photograph, like all great photojournalism, endures: In a single image it informs the viewer of the social malignancy that can be caused by a single mood-altering substance and the criminal tyranny that can grow from its sale and use.
A beat patrolman in the drug-stricken neighborhood, which lies along the borders of Dallas’ Fair Park, had told me at the outset of my research, “Almost no one is here for a good reason. You got criminals and victims . . .” But Mark’s photograph offers an insight that is at once more dramatic and more subtle: Many denizens of the besieged neighborhood were, in fact, both. Jim Atkinson
Father and Son With Home Arsenal by Robert Ziebell
Houston, “Defending Their Lives” June 1994
FOR A PHOTO ESSAY ACCOMPANYING A piece on violent crime in Houston, Robert Ziebell supplied nine photos of defense-minded citizens and their various weapons—including guns, rottweilers, and a hat pin. Most of the photos are hard-edged, the defiant anger of the subjects plain in each face and stance. His photo of Rudy Treviño, kneeling and holding his newborn baby instead of the guns at his feet, has a different feel. “I have a great sense of pride with this one,” Ziebell says. “It walks a thin line. People who are gun-happy see it as a sensible image. Those appalled by guns in the home think it’s slightly disturbing.”
Treviño posed in his Houston apartment in front of the very symbol of home: a hearth, spartanly decorated with icons and mementos. Before him was his personal arsenal—a twelve-gauge shotgun, a 9mm Beretta, a .380 automatic, and a .22 derringer. Ziebell snapped pictures of Treviño, his wife, a son from a previous marriage, and the newborn, lined up in various combinations with the guns and ammo. As the session wound down, Ziebell decided to try one more pose. “He was sitting there, playing with his child, and I said, ‘Let’s take one with you and the baby.’ Very rarely do I have a perfect photo happen in front of me. A newlywed father with his newborn baby in front of his hearth with all these perfect American things. You couldn’t style a photo like that. People could spend hours researching all those little icons—the horses, the soldier’s photo [Treviño in his Desert Storm uniform], the ceramic cats, the angels. It all fell into place.” Michael Hall
Black Militia Member and Grandmother by Joseph Vento
Dallas, “The Ghosts of the Freedmen” July 1991
1991 GUNS WERE WHAT M. T. AV’ANT was all about. “He was threatening to cause a revolution in the streets,” says former staff writer Dana Rubin, who wrote about AV’ant in a July article on race relations in Dallas. “He wanted to be scary—that was his shtick.” AV’ant claimed to be organizing a radical black militia that was going to overthrow Dallas’ city government unless it spent more money on minority neighborhoods; he wanted members to prove their mettle by slicing off the first joint of their little finger, which AV’ant planned to deliver to the city council. But what makes this image unusual is that photographer Joseph Vento chose to depict the ordinary side of M. T. AV’ant as well. “He said he grew up in South Dallas and that his grandmother still lived there,” says Vento. “That’s when it clicked: I should take him there. That way the image would have a reality that his current trip didn’t have.” AV’ant posed beside his grandmother, surrounded by knickknacks, and she kept calling him Melvin throughout the shoot. “His philosophy was a posture, a way to survive in the world,” says Vento. “But it was kind of a one-note samba. Who he really was, was much more interesting.”
AV’ant has since abandoned the idea of a militia but still attends all kinds of community meetings and compulsively calls local talk-radio shows. In recent years his views have changed substantially. “I made the statement the other day that I wish I was a white man, because I wouldn’t have to be bothered with a lot of this race stuff,” AV’ant said recently. “In ’91, I blamed white folks for our children not being able to read. How can I blame white folks? I know the Anglo people have put a lot of money into our community. Now I’m asking the black community what we can do to help ourselves. It’s not a Republican view; it’s a self-help view. Lots of people say I’m an Uncle Tom, a sellout. But honey, we got some serious problems. We are killin’ each other. Who can we blame for that?” Helen Thorpe
White Supremacist by Dan Winters
Pasadena, “Vidor in Black and White” December 1993
IN THE FALL OF 1993, WHEN DAN WINTERS took this picture, Vidor was world famous for being one of the few towns in the South with hardly any black residents. The federal government was trying to rectify the situation by integrating the one local housing project, but the result was threatened violence and a burgeoning media circus. I was with Dan the day he photographed a protest march. The demonstrators were mostly kids from Pasadena, such as the one on page 220—skinheads who seemed enthralled with the idea of playing modern-day bigots. But from the sidelines, a man in sunglasses motioned me to his car. “Are you a reporter?” he asked. I told him I was. “This is kid stuff,” he sneered, dragging on a cigarette. “There’s more to come.” When I pressed him, he put his car in gear and pulled away. “Just wait,” he said. He was the first person I thought of when the federal building in Oklahoma City blew up eighteen months later. Mimi Swartz
Inmate at Rusk State Hospital by by Joe Baraban
Rusk, “A Season in Hell” October 1978
WORKING UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME AS A psychiatric security technician, Dick J. Reavis went underground to write an October account of the maximum-security section at Rusk State Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane. Photographer Joe Baraban didn’t have the option of anonymity, but he obtained something even rarer: permission to spend three days documenting daily life among some of the state’s most dangerous inmates. His young female assistant was unnerved by an inmate who repeatedly whispered pleas to “take me with you.” “He had a wad of play money,” says Baraban. “He’d look around, then say, ‘Look, I’ve got a million bucks. Get me out of here.’”
Though certified insane, the inmates still had the right to privacy, so the authorities outlined certain restrictions. One was that no inmate should be immediately identifiable—which is why many of Baraban’s shots pictured subjects from the back or, as in this image, starkly backlit and in silhouette. The man in the photo, Baraban recalls, “was a catatonic schizophrenic, frozen in whatever position he was put in. It was like working with a figure in a drawing class.” Baraban arranged the man at an old piano he found on the ward, as if the subject were pounding away, but in reality the photo was a still shot. Says Baraban: “I’m not even sure he knew I was there.” Chester Rosson
Emergency Room Aftermath by Patrick Berry
Ben Taub General Hospital, Houston, “The Lifesavers” April 1977
IN APRIL 1977 THE SHOCK ROOMS AT Houston’s Ben Taub General Hospital were state-of-the-art, attracting national attention for the staff’s apparent ability to not only save critical patients but also “raise them from the dead,” as a source told writer John Davidson. Ben Taub’s doctors and nurses dealt with a steady flow of knifings, gunshot wounds, and other life-threatening trauma.
The verisimilitude of television shows like ER had not yet inured the public to the images that such an environment generates, and many of Patrick Berry’s photos captured the intensity of extreme resuscitation attempts. “The big event was a ‘chest,’” says Berry, referring to the life-saving procedure in which the patient’s chest is cut at the sternum and the rib cage jacked open to expose the heart for surgical repair. “I went to the hospital four times over a three-week period. The staff insisted I come in on an ‘Action Friday,’ their term for a full-moon Friday after payday. Someone called out, ‘Pat, we’ve got a chest coming in.’ There was so much energy. The patient was lying naked on the stretcher, with maybe sixteen people working on him at once, and I was shooting fast. The scene didn’t bother me at the time, because I was so busy.”
The photo of the empty room was taken almost inadvertently. Says Berry: “I was just walking down the hall, and I glanced at the shock room. Just fifteen minutes before, the room was full of people.” He had to act fast: “The rooms have to be cleaned up quickly for the next patient.” Though taken in the aftermath of surgery, the picture is still full of energy—the calm after a just-dissipated storm. Chester Rosson
Father and Invalid Son by Doug Milner
Arlington, “Mad at the World” September 1990
TRAGEDY PROMPTED THIS UNFLINCHING PHOTOGRAPH, and tragedy has followed in its wake. Johnathan Brasfield, the child in the foreground, died in 1993. And Doug Milner, the gifted photographer who took the picture, died in 1995 of an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. As a result, one can only conjecture what Milner hoped to convey when he set up the picture in the Brasfield family’s Arlington home. It would probably be fair to say, though, that the deliberate harshness of the lighting emphasizes the fragility of the child, who had suffered severe brain damage from oxygen deprivation a day after surgery. (Johnathan’s insurance company refused to pay for various expenses, and the crusade of his father, Tom Brasfield, to find public assistance inspired the September 1990 feature.) Similarly, the deep shadows accentuate the anger and frustration on the face of Tom, who is quietly holding his son’s left hand just out of sight of the camera. But perhaps above all, the picture expresses the bond between father and son. “It’s been almost five years since Johnathan died,” says Brasfield, “but not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.” Patricia Sharpe
Man on Swing by Tommy Hultgren
San Antonio, “Injured Parties” November 1992
GEORGE PAOURIS—THE MAN IN THIS lonely and seemingly windswept picture—is now dead, killed by his ex-wife less than three months after the photograph was published. His demise came as the tragic conclusion to a vicious custody battle for the couple’s young daughter, during which Paouris asserted that his former spouse, Dolores Markee, was mentally unstable and she in turn accused him of having sexually molested the child. In late July 1992 the court granted Paouris custody of their daughter. Early the following year, Markee went to Paouris’ San Antonio house, and when he stepped outside to talk to her, she shot him a total of ten times at close range. She is currently serving a 58-year sentence for murder.
“In setting up the picture, I was trying to use the empty swing symbolically,” says San Antonio photographer Tommy Hultgren. “We were at a playground where George often took his daughter on the weekends. I wanted to set a mood and tell a little about the man.” Hultgren employed a wide-angle lens to create a sense of emptiness and isolation. “He was quiet and reserved, not very forthcoming emotionally. The trial had been traumatic for him, and it was hard for him to open up.”
The November 1992 story that the photograph accompanied concerned the growing number of custody cases in which former wives accuse ex-husbands of having sexually abused their children. After the article ran, Hultgren didn’t think much more about it until he read in the paper that Paouris had been killed. “It was pretty disturbing for me,” he says, “because it hadn’t been that long since we took the photograph. He was a nice guy. In fact, I still have a picture of him and my assistant and me that we took next to the swing set just for grins.” Patricia Sharpe
Coyote in Trap by Wyman Meinzer
Dickens County, “The Coyote Wars” June 1981
EVEN FOR SOMEONE WHO TODAY MAKES his home in the remodeled former city jail of tiny Benjamin, Wyman Meinzer’s youthful rebellion was eccentric. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1974 with a degree in wildlife management, he spent the next three years in a dugout on North Texas’ Pitchfork Ranch, trapping coyotes to pay for his groceries. The going price was $11 a hide. He was the son of a ranch foreman, and in that culture, coyotes were vermin. Though he loved their quirks and their yodeled serenades, he killed hundreds of them. He was a student of color as well as nature—at night he studied acrylic paint by the light of a Coleman lantern.
That hermitage was the unlikely apprenticeship of an acclaimed conservationist and wildlife photographer whose work has since appeared on more than two hundred magazine covers. His books include Coyote (1995), for which he also wrote the text. Meinzer, who contends that the wild canines’ predation on livestock is “greatly exaggerated,” took the shot of the coyote during his years on the Pitchfork. It ran with my 1981 essay on the cohabitation of coyotes and Texas sheep and goat ranchers, and never was the old saw truer: The picture was worth several thousand words. “I caught that coyote in John Bell Canyon with a number-four steel trap,” he recalls, making no mention of f-stops. “Some would cow down, realizing that it was over, their time was up. But in a moment of hopelessness, this one had an expression of total defiance.” Jan Reid
Atlantic Green Sea Turtle by James Balog
South Padre Island, “Survivors” February 1991
TEXANS CONSIDER THEMSELVES A RARE BREED, but Coloradan James Balog planned to photograph even rarer creatures when he visited the state in 1988. He was researching a book on endangered wildlife, which he photographed against stylized backgrounds to emphasize the animals’ geographical distance from their native habitats. He found a disproportionate number of vanishing species housed in Texas, at a variety of city zoos, nature preserves, and private ranches. Only one of the seven species—the Atlantic green sea turtle pictured here—was a native. “We were down near South Padre Island,” says Balog, “when someone told us about Ila Loetscher, the Turtle Lady, so we drove over. She was very welcoming and very simpatico with the turtles. In a world of animal obsessives, I had never met anyone as obsessive as she was—and I mean that in a good way.
“We did most of the shots in the water. But as she was handling this particular turtle, I caught a glimpse of the underside: lovely, pale, delicate. I said, ‘God, that is just gorgeous. Can we turn him over on his back?’ She said yes, not for long but for a little while. We got a big piece of fabric and folded it over several times to make a cushion, then placed him on it and stabilized the ridge along his back. The shot took only ten minutes.” Then Loetscher returned the turtle to his tank, and he happily swam away.
Balog notes, however, that many viewers are upset by the animal’s posture. “It wasn’t planned,” he says, “but with that helpless positioning of his arms, this picture is almost a crucifixion scene.” Anne Dingus
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bread by Rick Patrick
Austin, State Fare October 1991
THE ASSIGNMENT WAS SIMPLE—TAKE A PICTURE of some chocolate–peanut butter bread—but in the process, the bread became the center of a fully imagined dramatic scenario. Says Austin photographer Rick Patrick: “The food stylist, Megan Bowman, and I came up with the idea of giving the picture a time and a place—Sunday morning in the breakfast room, with light streaming through a window and four or five cups of coffee and all the time in the world to do absolutely nothing.” They used the Sunday comics to imply the day and the strawberries to suggest self-indulgence, but most of all, they manipulated the light. “There’s no natural light in the picture and no window,” Patrick says. “We used a spotlight and a device called a gobo”—short for “go-between”—“modified with a windowpane pattern to create the lines falling on the plate and knife.” They also shone the light through water to make it look wobbly and irregular, as if the room were in some wonderful old house. Part of the satisfaction of food photography, Patrick reflects, is making each picture into a little story: “They’re like chapters out of a life I would like to live myself.” Patricia Sharpe
Key Lime Pie by Pete McArthur
Los Angeles, State Fare June 1991
WARNING: DO NOT EAT ANYTHING IN THIS PICTURE. The “Key lime” pie is made of sturdy mashed potatoes; it’s also about six inches tall in order to look right when shot at a steep angle. The whipped cream is a chemical-impregnated nondairy topping, and the coffee is soy sauce mixed with soap so its cute little bubbles will last. Talk about shattered illusions—but to Los Angeles’ Pete McArthur, reality is meaningless and art is paramount in still-life photography. McArthur’s specialty involves not only doing weird things to food (like this dessert from El Paso’s San Francisco Grill) but also maintaining an aesthetic philosophy. “I don’t try to recreate a slice of life,” he says. “I emphasize form. To me, every element in a still life is a shape, and I arrange those shapes without worrying about what they are.” As he envisioned it, this picture wasn’t about pie and coffee; it was about circles: “The pie plate, the saucer, the cup, and the sugar bowl are all circles. We tried to reinforce that and keep the picture appetizing at the same time. To get people excited about a still life, focus on the form. That’s a great reason to take a picture.” Patricia Sharpe