The Kid From Amarillo
Contributing photographer Wyatt McSpadden talks about open spaces, Amarillo as an oasis, and where he’s from now.
texasmonthly.com: How did you feel about going “home” to shoot a photo essay for Texas Monthly?
Wyatt McSpadden: I was excited. It’s rare to get such a personal assignment.
texasmonthly.com: You say you “decided to feel [your] way around for a week, shooting what caught [your] eye…” Did you end up shooting more locations you were acquainted with or places that were unfamiliar?
WM: Both. I knew in advance that there were certain people and places I had to photograph, but of course, I was open to unexpected opportunities.
texasmonthly.com: Did you shoot digital or film? And why did you decide to use black and white?
WM: Film. I’m still doing most of my assignments with film. It was left to me to choose how to do this assignment. I never considered anything but black and white.
texasmonthly.com: It seems many of the people in your photos have a very settled look about them, as if to say, “Amarillo is my home for better or worse,” and the aerial shot of the tract houses and the cul-de-sacs gives a sense of containment. Yet other photographs (and even the top third of the cul-de-sacs shot) show the boundless horizon that allowed you “the easy escape from town.” I may be completely off base here, but when living in Amarillo did you feel both wanderlust and a sense of insularity?
WM: Probably no more so than anyone growing up. I guess it depends on one’s family situation. We didn’t travel much, and my dad’s business was such that he went to the same place at the same time six or seven days a week, so as a kid I thought that’s how life was supposed to be. That changed of course—there were times that I felt very confined there.
texasmonthly.com: In your text, you say you feel Amarillo is more akin to Great Plains communities than any other town in Texas, but also that, for you, Amarillo and the Panhandle “are where the real Texas is.” How do you feel this affects the way folks from Amarillo see themselves in relation to the rest of the state?
WM: Most people I know in Amarillo love it there. My friends wouldn’t consider leaving. I think they feel Amarillo is an oasis. They have no traffic problems, people are friendly, housing is affordable, the climate is much milder in the summer. But there’s another side to it. The contentment can lead to complacency, insularity, perhaps a lack of curiosity about the rest of the state and country.
texasmonthly.com: You grew up in Amarillo but have lived in Austin since the mid-nineties. When you’re out of Texas, where do you say you’re from?
WM: Austin by way of Amarillo.
texasmonthly.com: Which city do you feel more comfortable shooting?
WM: I’m pretty comfy wherever I am.
texasmonthly.com: If you could photograph an Amarillo scene from your childhood—whether a landmark or plot of land or store or whatever—that no longer exists, what would it be?
WM: Probably one of my dad’s grocery stores. He and his brother owned several at one time, but the one I spent a good six years working at was the Central Grocery at Southwest Sixteenth Avenue and South Van Buren.