A few years after a Texas Tech professor lent him his first 35mm camera, Wyman Meinzer had an epiphany. A rancher’s son, he was living in a half dugout in West Texas studying coyotes and working as a predator hunter when he began to notice the nuances of light on the rolling plains. Though Meinzer had seen thousands of sunsets and sunrises growing up in Benjamin, he had never considered the reflection of the morning sun bouncing off the frost or the subtle colors that washed through the canyons. So to hone his eye, he began taking a painter’s palette out with him, mixing acrylics until they matched the sky’s hues. For the amateur lensman, it was a new way of seeing.
In the four decades since those evening art lessons, the 58-year-old cowboy has become a prolific documentarian of the state’s scenic wonders. Named the official state photographer in 1997 by then-governor George W. Bush, Meinzer has captured sights that most Texans will never see for themselves: the view from the highest point of the Chinati Mountains; cowhands wrangling cattle on the Four Sixes Ranch, in Guthrie; an aerial of the Canadian River slicing through the Panhandle. His pictures have graced more than 250 magazine covers and been compiled into twenty books, including volumes on the sky, the seasons, and his beloved coyotes.
In the following images, taken from his latest book, Inspiration Texas Style, it’s obvious that Meinzer’s familiarity with the land—he has memorized many of the state’s back roads and weather patterns—is his great advantage. “I’ll see a storm coming from the northwest, and I’ll know that I can intercept that thing thirty miles away where there’s a neat landscape scene,” he says. But more than being in the right place at the most picturesque time, it is Meinzer’s practiced awareness of light in all its variations that imbues his shots with a painterly quality. “After a while you become attuned to that ultimate light of day, that ultimate moment,”he says. “And you become almost depressed when you miss it.”