texasmonthly.com: Was it difficult to take pictures in a desolate town?
Artie Limmer: No, not really. I did panic a bit when I got to Roby—the fact that very little still exists was somewhat intimidating. I spoke with Pamela Colloff while in Roby, and she told me that she had the same feeling when she first arrived. I just had to accept the fact that the story is actually about a small town that is disappearing. It offered me an opportunity to look for images in a different way.
texasmonthly.com: Did the men feel comfortable in front of the camera? If not, how did you help them?
AL: The men in Roby are very much like the same guys that I grew up with in my home town. They are straight to the point, extremely confident, and very opinionated. After I spent some time talking with them over breakfast, they were very open to anything I suggested. They were great to work with, actually cutting up and enjoying the shoot. They were very aware that I had a job to do and even commented on the fact I was working and they had a genuine respect for that.
texasmonthly.com: How would you describe Roby?
AL: Roby was a great little town years ago. Unfortunately things have changed and it is almost gone. I think the real problem with Roby is that it is located too far from any large city. Lots of people would love to live in a place like Roby; it has a rural feel and it is very open and full of fresh air. The problem is people have to make a living. There is just not much to do out in Roby, and the nearby cities are not really considered opportunity central for jobs or culture.
texasmonthly.com: You live in West Texas. Do you think Roby is in a state similar to most small towns in Texas?
AL: Roby is similar to many small towns in Texas. It’s very sad. I was raised in a small town, and it was a great life for a kid, very honest. When you’re raised in a small place, people rely more on their own hard work and are forced to deal with problems. It is a place where what you see is what you get. I think everyone sort of has that small-town idea in mind, a place like Mayberry, very simple. But that is pretty much just a dream now.
texasmonthly.com: What do you love about West Texas?
AL: The people, the land, how open it is. The best part is the weather. I know you probably find that funny, me being from Lubbock and all, but the rest of Texas can only dream of how sweet the evenings are here in the summer. A friend from Boston described it best when he said, “It’s an easy place to live.”
texasmonthly.com: What do you think is the most unique thing about the people who live in West Texas?
AL: West Texas people are some of the most genuine people in the world. True West Texans have either avoided or ignored the dog-eat-dog world.
texasmonthly.com: Texas Monthly art director Scott Dadich and TM associate art director T.J. Tucker (both graduates from Texas Tech University) often refer to you as their mentor. Did you teach them everything you know?
AL: I don’t know about that. I learned as much from those two guys as they ever learned from me. Probably the only thing they picked up from me is how to work with a photographer. I think that was because back then I was the boss and they were forced to listen to me at times. Because of that, they found a new respect for how a professional photographer works and thinks. Most designers don’t know how to work with a photographer; they use a photographer like a tool, instead of like a partner. A good photographer can make a good designer look world-class and vice versa. They can feed off each other and produce some very interesting work.
texasmonthly.com: What do you most enjoy photographing?
AL: Just about anything but weddings. I like people the most. They are just so dang interesting. The time they give you to make a photograph is an opportunity to learn a great deal. I have always said that the best thing about my job is that I get a little window into these peoples lives and it is so enlightening.
Lubbock resident Artie Limmer is the associate director of University News and Publications and the creative director of the Office of Creative Services at Texas Tech University. His work has appeared in publications such as Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, and U.S. News and World Report.