(Images from the Twenty-fifth anniversary issue are not available online.)
Thousands of photographs have appeared in the pages of Texas Monthly since the magazine debuted 25 years ago. Narrowing them down to the hundred best images was tougher than a Texas Ranger. We wanted a fair reflection of the subjects that the magazine’s writers have covered since 1973 as well as of the various photographers whose work illuminated the articles.
Once the winnowing was through, the pictures fell naturally into three sections, which we labeled Home and Heritage, Fame and Fortune, and Life and Death. This opening section celebrates Texas’ strongest cultural ties: those to the land and legend of the West, the historical truth and mythos that give us our feeling of specialness. Most modern Texans are far removed from the cowboy and the country, but as the following 33 photos prove, they cherish it still.
The number on each picture is not a ranking of quality but strictly a device to permit easy cross-reference to the attached article. The stories, which begin at the end of each photographic portfolio, include outtakes, snapshots, and other behind-the-scenes vignettes that put the reader on the other side of the photograph and the photographer on the other side of the lens.
Images from the Twenty-fifth anniversary issue are not available online.
The Stories Behind the Pictures
IT HAS BECOME ONE OF TEXAS MONTHLY’S most beloved and resonating images: that of the six-foot-five, unyielding sentinel of the West, our eternal Texas Ranger. The image is fraught with irony, however. The subject of this photograph, Joaquin Jackson (along with several other veteran Rangers), had quit the elite law enforcement corps in disgust over its politically correct hiring practices and its growing timidity as a crime-fighting outfit. The reality beneath the myth was not so pretty, in other words. Yet to us Texans, the notion of the silent, strapping serpent-slayer meting out swift and sure justice in our raggedy Garden of Eden remains irresistible.
Jackson is himself an irresistible character, with a drawling but agile wit and a fondness for pricey cigars and top-grade tequila. He fears no one except God and his wife, Shirley, a pint-size Alpine middle school counselor whose voice—“Joaquin, get in the kitchen and start marinating those fajitas!”—sounds like the definitive crack of a bullwhip and produces an equivalent effect. I have heard many sad stories about retired Rangers, but none such will be told about this man. Jackson handles security for several West Texas ranchers, has done similar work on movie sets (twice landing small acting roles), and otherwise hacks his way across the region’s golf courses when he’s not autographing posters of himself. Anytime he wants to run for sheriff of Brewster County, the job is his. I suspect he’s having too much fun to consider it.
The unseen character in the Texas Rangers cover image is another favorite of mine. Dan Winters is, even by photographers’ standards, a manic and twisted soul. He looks like a burly skinhead, except that he smiles a lot and has no tattoos that I know of. Winters cut an odd figure in Alpine. Inexplicably, Joaquin Jackson took to him and later invited him back for javelina hunting (“C’mon, Dan. Shoot that son of a bitch!”). At the end of a long session in the desert, Winters was driving them back to town when a highway trooper stopped him for speeding. The photographer broke into a sweat: He thought he had a warrant out for an incident in Austin (minor, yet best left undiscussed). “Hold on,” the retired Ranger said to Winters and stepped out of the car. Winters agonized while Jackson and the trooper chewed the fat for several minutes. Eventually, Jackson returned to the passenger seat. “Hoof it,” he told Winters. “Shirley’s gonna chew me up if I’m home late.” Robert Draper
Tall Texan by Windy Drum
Waco, “Windy’s City” September 1993
“WACO IS BLESSED WITH A LOT OF PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY,” says James Jasek, an amateur archivist who has collected more than 100,000 images of local interest, including the extensive work of commercial photographer Lavern “Windy” Drum, who died in 1988. Tens of thousands of Drum’s shots captured the beauty queens, hamburger stands, holiday parades, and other fifties icons of the all-American town. “Windy started shooting in Waco in 1947, when he went to work for Jimmie Willis, another photographer in the city,” Jasek recalls. “Jimmie’s wife remarked he worked so fast he moved like the wind. That’s how he got his name.
“He was a very accomplished photographer, very intelligent, very good in the darkroom. He shot pictures like a professional, with the eye of an amateur, because if he saw something he was interested in, he’d shoot it—it didn’t matter if he could sell it. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep very good records. Once he took a picture, he was done with it. He didn’t write down information. I wish I’d talked to him about his negatives before he passed away.”
Fortunately, this photograph does have some documentation. Drum marked the negative “newspaper,” meaning he sold the shot to one of Waco’s dailies (there were two in 1957), which ran the photograph next to copy noting the grand opening of the Westview Shopping Center. After the image was reprinted in Texas Monthly in September 1993, reader Beverly Hammond McCalmont wrote a letter to the magazine, recalling that as a ten-year-old, she’d walked over to the new shopping center against her mother’s wishes. After her mother recognized her in the newspaper the next day (she’s standing to the right of the tall cowboy), Beverly got in big trouble. Joe Nick Patoski
Cowgirl Ann Holland Daugherty by William Coupon
Gage Holland Ranch, Alpine, “In Praise of Cowgirls” November 1987
“I’VE WORKED WITH A LOT OF SUBCULTURES around the world,” says William Coupon, who has shot photographic essays of such indigenous populations as the Turkish Kurds and Australian aborigines, “so I guess this assignment was appropriate, in that one could look at cowgirls as a distinct culture. They had in common their own language, style of clothing, and hardworking, early-rising, work-with-your-eyes-and-hands ethic.” Coupon purposely chose to remove his subjects from the land they worked. He shot twelve cowgirls for the photo feature, but was especially drawn to working cowgirl Ann Holland Daugherty, the boss’s daughter at the Gage Holland Ranch in Alpine, because she subverted as well as reinforced the stereotype. “I found her a very strong-willed person, which I think comes through in the picture. Yet she also had a beauty and femininity that to me was the antithesis of what I had expected,” he says. For this shot, Coupon incorporated elements from both the classic ethnographic approach of photographers like Irving Penn and the old-master portraiture of painters such as Rembrandt or Hals. Lit with a single diffused sidelight and shot at medium distance against a mottled-canvas backdrop, the portrait combines the camera’s unflinching honesty with the warmth, texture, and dignity of a painting in oil. Michael Ennis
6666 Ranch Cowboy by Martin Schreiber
King County, “Saddle Up, the Herd Is Waiting” October 1982
IF ANDREW WYETH PAINTED A COWBOY, he would look like this: lying in the grass like the Marlboro Man, a Jett-Rink-with-his-feet-on-the-porch cowboy, as perfectly secure in his world as Wyeth’s Christina is unsettled in hers. The horse peeks in, ready to be ridden or maybe just talked to. Martin Schreiber’s photographs of real cowboys on real ranches have an eerily timeless feeling, as if they should be in sepia—the men out of time, their posture, their clothes, the wide-open spaces around them all from some mythic movie in our heads. William Broyles
TO HIS CONSTITUENTS, RUFE JORDAN was a mighty big man—big-bellied, bighearted, and big on Gray County, where he served as sheriff for almost four decades. The only thing small about him was his beloved poodle, Honey, his longtime companion and bodyguard. This classic portrait sums up the sizable bundle of contradictions that was Rufe Jordan.
He was my sheriff. Growing up in Pampa, I just assumed he had the job for life (he practically did: He served for 38 years straight, until the age of 75). When my friends and I were in high school, our late-night gatherings in parks and schoolyards occasionally sparked complaints from neighbors. Then Sheriff Rufe would pull up in his official car, laboriously climb out (dwarfing the sedan—he weighed some three hundred pounds), hitch up his pants, and lumber majestically toward us; there was never any point in skedaddling, as he would have already recognized our license plates. “Now, y’all know not to make noise this late at night,” he’d admonish us in his low, rumbly drawl. “Have fun, but keep it down.” Then he’d inquire after our parents, hitch up his pants again, and return to his vigil on wheels.
“He was tough as nails but soft as Jell-O,” recalls his only child, Anne Davidson, who grew up in the fourth-floor courthouse apartment next to the county jail and still lives in Pampa. “He loved my mother and he loved me—he loved all women and children. But he could sure be a hothead with the right people.” She often accompanied him on his rounds. Once, when he visited a farmer-fleecing carnival to suggest that the show move on, a group of rowdies descended on him. Jordan, his daughter says, “waded right in and made him about six arrests. There were some bloody noses and missing teeth that night.”
Even photographer Kent Barker, neither relative nor county resident, homed in on the quintessential Rufe Jordan. Traveling with writer Dick J. Reavis to research a November 1984 feature on sheriffs, he first spotted Sheriff Jordan and tiny Honey in exactly this position. “I immediately thought, ‘That’s the shot,’” Barker says. “But I didn’t think it was an image a lawman would want to project. So we went through some more-typical, formal poses, and then I asked him if he’d be willing to recreate the one I had first seen. He sat down and put his feet up, and that was clearly a signal to the dog, who immediately jumped up and settled into his lap. It was obvious they spent many an hour like that. No one had to contrive that shot. When I saw it, I said, ‘That’s good—no, that’s awesome!’”
Rufe Jordan died in 1991 at age 78; his name now graces the state prison unit just east of Pampa. “He was a relic of the days when law enforcement officers enforced the law,” his daughter says. “He was the end of an era.” Anne Dingus
Stanley Marsh 3, Eccentric by Wyatt McSpadden
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, State of the Art September 1990
STANLEY MARSH 3 WILL GIVE ALMOST ANYTHING a whirl. The oilman-entrepreneur, a self-described show-off, loves to have his picture taken, and Wyatt McSpadden took this loopy portrait in front of Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch, one of the state’s most famous roadside attractions.
McSpadden, who, like Marsh, is an Amarillo boy, says that he got into photography because of his employment at Toad Hall, Marsh’s family compound. “I went to work for him in 1971, doing odd jobs—taking out the trash, driving the kids around, stuff like that,” he says. “Stanley loved photography and always kept a photographer on staff. Eventually the job of house photographer fell to me. There was a little darkroom out at Toad Hall, and we were always shooting pictures of the kids and then making eleven-by-fourteen or sixteen-by-twenty prints that he plastered all over his house. He wanted pictures of all his friends at all his parties—and he had a lot of parties.”
Today McSpadden is known as the primary documenter of Cadillac Ranch, having shot it from its creation in 1974 through its relocation down the road last year. But Marsh, he says, is his favorite human subject. “Stanley mugs and clowns like gangbusters. Now I’m so accustomed to taking photographs of people who don’t want their photograph taken that I realize what a great subject he is. He’s the most unabashed person I’ve ever shot.”
Marsh himself says, “I like being photographed by Wyatt because he’s my friend, and I like to have my friends around, but also because he’s bald, and so there’s a lot of expression in his forehead and the wrinkles around his eyes and the way he wiggles his ears. When he bends over and looks through the camera, I can tell by how he reacts if he likes what he sees. And I could tell he liked this particular picture.
“But Wyatt would be a good photographer even if he had hair on his head.” Anne Dingus
Red Couch at Gilley’s Rodeo Arena by Kevin Clarke
Pasadena, “The Adventures of the Red Couch in Texas” November 1984
FROM 1979 TO 1983 NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHER Kevin Clarke carted a friend’s eight-foot red velveteen couch around the country, plunking it down in the middle of mythical American settings and taking pictures of it. In August 1983, without arranging anything in advance, Clarke pulled his van into the parking lot of Gilley’s in Pasadena, the stomping grounds of the urban cowboy, perhaps the most powerful myth of the era. On a whim, he complied with a sign telling customers to leave their sun visors down if they would allow a Gilley’s bumper sticker to be put on their car. Inside, Clarke asked to see boss man Sherwood Cryer and was escorted to his office by “a group of very large men.” Cryer played with his gun as a squeamish Clarke tried to describe his mission. Before deciding, Cryer and crew went outside to look at Clarke’s van. “When they saw my visor was down and I’d accepted a sticker, everything was carte blanche,” Clarke says with a laugh. “If the visor had been up, they said they would have sent me on my way.” Cryer gave him a hat and a belt buckle and the grand tour of the place.
After that night’s rodeo, Cryer (right, in the photo on page 54) posed in the arena with rider Bucky Havard (left) and rodeo producer Mutt Neuman (in repose), as Kent Richard rode a fearsome bull. Was the West won by the incongruous red couch? Not exactly, Clarke reports—but “once people saw there was no point to it, they got into the idea and had fun.” John Morthland
Shooting Gallery at Gilley’s Nightclub by Brian Smale
Pasadena, “The Return of the Urban Cowboy” November 1985
THE YEARNING TO BE A MYTHIC COWBOY comes up against the reality of modern Texas most jarringly at Gilley’s, where during its heyday urban-cowboy wannabes dropped in after their shift at the refinery or the Stop n Go to ride the bulls and check out the women in tight jeans. Dancers circled the floor doing the two-step, and John Travolta and Debra Winger could have walked in any minute. First came the cowboy, then the imitation cowboys, then the movie about the imitation cowboys; then, inevitably, comes the imitation of the movie. Brian Smale photographed these two Pasadena buckaroos as they were about to stage a fast-draw showdown with paintball guns. Is it any wonder they look like exhibits in a diorama? William Broyles
Yogi Baird, The Texas Twister by Brian Smale
Houston, “One Brick Shy of a Load” October 1988
“YOGI BAIRD WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE subjects to photograph, although just about anything in Texas is a favorite shot because people can be so . . . different,” says Brian Smale, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Brooklyn. He shot the Houston musician-contortionist for a photo essay on seven offbeat country performers. “We spent almost the whole day together. This shot was done inside Rockefeller’s [nightclub] in Houston. We tried another shot outdoors at a ranch with two horses side by side, with him doing the splits between them, a foot on each horse’s back. He was hoping to work it into his act, so he could ride around an arena playing fiddle.” Smale also recalls that Yogi “was very comfortable during the entire shoot. The contortions were no big deal—he’d been doing that stuff for years. He’s a very, very flexible guy.” Joe Nick Patoski
IN 1978 MITCHELL A. WILDER SAW A PORTRAIT of a Montana ranch foreman taken by the world-famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon. Wilder, who has since died, was then the director of Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, and he saw in Avedon’s portrait not just an image but an opportunity. At Wilder’s urging, and with the Amon Carter’s sponsorship, Avedon spent the next five summers touring western states and photographing the people he found there.
The result was a vision of the West unlike any other. Until then, photographers had concentrated on its dramatic landscapes. People, when they were shown at all, were usually placed in relation to that landscape and most often were dwarfed by it. But Avedon, posing his subjects against a seamless backdrop he hung on the sides of buildings, showed no landscape at all. He even neutralized the source of light. There were no brilliant sunsets and no shadows, only the people themselves, serious, often expressionless, staring straight at you.
In September 1985 the collection, “In the American West,” opened at the Amon Carter. The event was one of the year’s social and artistic high points, and many of the subjects attended. But seeing them in the flesh was a jolt. They were recognizable from their photographs, but just barely. The portraits weren’t really likenesses of them—they were something else entirely. The people in the photographs were larger than the people in real life and different in some dramatic but inexplicable way. As Avedon himself wrote of the series, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.”
Above all, Avedon is a classicist. Again and again in his western portraits one sees round arms like those in Greek sculpture or curved, pointing fingers in the manner of the grand masters of the Renaissance. The photograph here was the first one Avedon made for the project. Taken March 10, 1979, it shows Boyd Fortin, then thirteen, who was helping his father skin and gut rattlesnakes at the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Round-Up. Here the classical aesthetic is so strong that it is the whole point of the photograph. The boy’s hair is Greek; so is the ambiguity of gender so typical of Greek sculptures of adolescents. And the snake carcass and the curve of the guts across his belly? Nothing could look more like a Greek lyre.
When Boyd Fortin, now 32 and living in Lufkin, was recently asked about posing for the photograph, his response was classical too in its practicality. “It was two days of holding a dead snake,” he said. “And it was cold.” Gregory Curtis
Boy With Shotgun by Shelby Lee Adams
Kirbyville, “Burning Down the Woods” May 1995
ALTHOUGH SHELBY LEE ADAMS HAD never visited East Texas, he was the natural choice for “Burning Down the Woods,” a profile of the region’s outlaw hunters and arsonists. A native of Eastern Kentucky, Adams was reared among country folk and knew well their allegiance to even the most ossified of traditions—including hunting deer with dogs. I had admired his anthology, Appalachian Portraits, a searing but resolute and ultimately tender collection. In fact, compared with the lifestyle he’d seen and photographed in the mountains, I worried that deep East Texas would look to Adams like Beverly Hills.
He showed up in Jasper toting his cumbersome four- by five-inch field camera and a tripod, and with some curiosity as to the nature of chicken-fried steak. For the entire day we drove through the neglected towns of the Pine Curtain: Buna, Call, Spurger, Erin, Fred. Adams took in the scruffy panorama. Before long, he began to nod and murmur with a smile that gradually widened: “Oh, yes. Yes. Sure, I know this place …” I gave him a few contacts and then left him with East Texas. He did his work patiently, aware that even his law-abiding rural subjects would view any outsider, much less a photographer, with distrust and, possibly, hostility. I had faith, but it still was a relief to hear the report one day that Shelby Lee Adams had won the trust of the outlaw hunters, had even photographed some of the arsonists, and was now out with the family of the boy in this picture, digging for sassafras root, which Adams would take home to use for tea that winter. Robert Draper
Kickapoo Indian Boys by James H. Evans
Nacimiento, Mexico, “The Forgotten People” February 1997
IT TOOK ME TWO YEARS TO PENETRATE the mystery and reserve of the Kickapoo Indians to the extent that I could write a story about them. Then James H. Evans, who lives in Marathon, was asked to deliver photographs in only two months, and he lacked an essential tool: knowledge of Spanish. He had plenty of other equipment, though. As we set out from Eagle Pass to drive across to Nacimiento, the border tribe’s Mexican preserve and adopted holy land, my Kickapoo friend and guide, Joe Hernandez, looked at the generator in the back of James’s pickup and shook his head. He was certain Mexican customs officials would either turn us back because of it or seize it as contraband. But James had to have a source of electricity, and propitiously, his investment survived our border crossing.
I had never been around a photographer who worked the way James did. Taciturn people responded to his friendly manner, and he soon had them posing in ceremonial attire while the generator chattered and he briskly assembled a studio—strobe lights, screens, tripods—next to their wickiups in the Sierra Madres. He came away with some of the loveliest, most haunting images of Native American culture since the work of Edward S. Curtis nearly a century ago. But the magic of this photo is its universality. As we walked beside the Sabinas, the Kickapoo’s sacred river, we heard peals of laughter from kids swimming in a spring-fed pool. “I’m not sure he knew I was there,” James says of the boy on the rope swing. “He certainly wasn’t intimidated by my taking pictures of him in his underwear. To me, this shot is about children’s sense of freedom.” Jan Reid
IT IS ALWAYS GRATIFYING FOR A WRITER to find that his article has not just been illustrated but amplified. That was the happy experience I had with a 1989 cover story documenting the thunderous history and modern-day identity crisis of the Comanche people. Sometimes a writer and a photographer work on a story at the same time, but in this case I had already been to the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma and written the piece before the photographer had been assigned. I never met Kurt Markus, and still haven’t, but when I saw his pictures, I knew we were after the same thing: the haunted nostalgia that is so primary a feature of Comanche life. Eight of his remarkable portraits accompanied the story, but this study of a man in traditional dress looking out over the Wichita Mountains is my favorite. From the subject’s bearing, from his weary posture, you can infer the expression on his unseen face. He is staring off into the historical ether, his eyes filled with pride and heartbreak. Stephen Harrigan
Indian Pictographs by Mark Klett
Near Tapado Canyon Big Bend Ranch State Park Presidio County, “Wild Forever” December 1989
MARK KLETT IS KNOWN FOR INVESTING his austere landscapes with tantalizing hints of a human presence. In the case of this photograph, the landscape is Big Bend Ranch, an immense volcano-sculpted wilderness whose new status as a state park was the subject of a story I wrote in 1989. The human and animal forms you see on the wall of this rock shelter are Indian pictographs. They are from a bygone age and have the gravitas of history. What’s fascinating to me is how the hat that Klett has placed so casually but calculatedly in the foreground does not seem like an intrusion upon this ancient sanctum. It seems to belong there, to be a token of the photographer’s easy authority, his confident presence in this timeless world. Stephen Harrigan
Bats Exiting Bracken Cave by Reagan Bradshaw
Comal County, “Bats!” October 1981
FEW MAGAZINE ASSIGNMENTS REQUIRE medical precautions, but both writer Suzanne Winckler and photographer Reagan Bradshaw had to undergo rabies shots before descending into Bracken Cave, the home of up to 10 million bats, for the October 1981 story “Bats!” Researchers have been known to have become infected merely from breathing the moist, ammonia-filled air in a bat cave.
But the shots were “the least painful part of the process,” Bradshaw says, launching into a description of an experience he has never cared to repeat. “We shot that photograph in the middle of summer, and unlike other caves, a bat cave gets hotter the farther down you go because of the decomposition of the guano. The rattlesnakes like to hang out down there because there is plenty of food. Mites from the bats get on your face and hair and itch until you can get to a shower. Worst of all are the dermestid beetles that live at the bottom of the cave. They can strip a fallen bat to bare bones in minutes—and they will crawl up your pants leg and start eating on you.
The bats-in-flight shot “is an illusion,” Bradshaw explains. “It is very dark in the cave, but a beautiful soft light comes in. I thought, ‘Oh, if I could only just get a shot of that,’ but the light was too dim. I asked Suzanne to go back up and point the flash down into the cave. It’s a strobe exposure, but it actually captured the soft light effect that we saw.”
Winckler remembers the experience more romantically. “You could put your nose right up to a mother bat and her baby,” she says. And she later led an impromptu tour of the cave, where she met her future husband. Chester Rosson
Rock Climber by Laurence Parent
Hueco Tanks Historical state park, El Paso County, “Social Climbers” November 1996
HUECO TANKS STATE HISTORICAL PARK, an out-of-the-way geological formation 32 miles northeast of El Paso, draws rock climbers from around the world. The park’s peculiarly pockmarked boulders are some of the trickiest ascents to be found anywhere, as outdoorsman and landscape photographer Laurence Parent discovered when he accompanied expert climbers up such massive formations as the Klingon Warship and Sea of Holes. A dust storm roared in as he neared the crest of a three-hundred-foot cliff, forcing him to tie himself in and use hand signals to communicate with the climbers below. “So I’m hanging by my toes and one hand, trying to take pictures with the other,” Parent says, “and the sand trashed my camera and I tore the rotator cuff in my shoulder. But I got my shots.” Helen Thorpe
Tommy Hill’s Chat & Chew by Birney Imes
Marshall, “Juke Joints” August 1993
tHREE YEARS AFTER BIRNEY IMES PUBLISHED Juke Joint, his illuminating book of photographs chronicling the funky black social clubs and roadhouses of his native Mississippi, he received a call from art director D. J. Stout, who was wondering if he’d be interested in roaming around the Piney Woods of East Texas to do the same. “I’d had enough with juke joints,” Imes remembers. “But the thought of working with him and the magazine was intriguing, so I took him up on it.”
East Texas, he quickly learned, was different from Mississippi: “The places look exactly the same, but East Texas was more singular and less integrated, so it was harder as a white photographer to take pictures. I was out there alone in this pretty intense situation.” Some proprietors were overtly hostile, but other folks were more welcoming, like the elderly lady who then ran Cherry’s Place, in a settlement known locally as Nigton. “There was talk of murders and things like that at Cherry’s Place,” Imes says. “I later learned that, in its day, it supposedly had offered a variety of pleasures. The current owner also had a ball field, she was raising a child, and she was rumored to have shot a deer from the front door.”
The mere name of Tommy Hill’s Chat & Chew, which is on the side of the highway in Marshall, was enough to draw Imes’s attention. “There was this hand-painted sign out front wrapped in Christmas lights. I saw it, stopped, and photographed the sign and ended up staying around awhile and going inside. Tommy Hill didn’t say much—he was watching a football game—but he gave me the run of the place.”
Two years ago Imes put down his camera to become the executive editor of Mississippi’s Columbus Commercial Dispatch, where both his father and grandfather had worked before him. But East Texas stuck to his ribs. “It was a real vivid experience for me, being by myself in this densely vegetated area for a week at a time. I think about it from time to time. I’d like to revisit and see how the places have changed.” Joe Nick Patoski
EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN A REGULAR patron of Louie Mueller’s Barbeque for a quarter century, as I have, you can deduce from Harry De Zitter’s unerring photograph that this Taylor shrine is one of the great culinary temples of Texas. It’s big (to accommodate the hungry throngs), it’s not all prettied up (the food comes first), the walls are stained by woodsmoke (it has withstood the test of time), and customers post their testimonials on the walls (so enthralled are we). De Zitter paid photographic tribute to the barbecue haven—as well as a barber shop, a filling station, a theater, and four other rustic relics—in “Vanishing Texas,” a November 1990 photo feature illuminated by his outsider’s eye (De Zitter was born in Belgium and grew up in South Africa). So what did he think of Louie Mueller’s? “The place is beyond funky. You couldn’t style it better. Hollywood at its best couldn’t get this degree of authenticity. You could rub a piece of bread on the ceiling and it would taste great. The honesty, the unpretentiousness, is amazing.” No, no, that’s not what I meant. What about the barbecue? “We all ate it, my wife and my assistant too. Who needs France?” Paul Burka
Crowd at Astrodome by Geoff Winningham
Houston, “Greetings From the Eighth Wonder of the World” April 1975
WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING FOR? A FOUL BALL? A loose wheel from a tractor pull? A rider bucked by the biggest, baddest bull ever? Angels descending in Astros uniforms? At the Astrodome in the glorious seventies, it could have been any of these, but it was a Flying Wallenda, walking across a tightrope. As one might ask about the Astrodome itself, why?
Billed as the eighth wonder of the world when it was built, barely thirty years later it is a dinosaur, its legacy the broken hearts of Astros and Oilers fans and the thousands of anterior cruciate ligaments torn on AstroTurf. Its legacy is also priceless memories like my own—of baseball games with my parents and then with my own children, of rodeos and revivals and concerts and the glorious celebration for the world champion Houston Rockets (who, of course, never played at the ’Dome)—memories so powerful I scattered my father’s ashes there.
When the Astrodome was still young and glorious, Geoff Winningham spent countless days there, his eye searching for the revealing moment. “I was looking up at the Flying Wallenda like everyone else, but I couldn’t frame him; he was so high that he was like a flea in my lens. Then I remembered my own rule: Look where everyone else isn’t looking. Everyone else was looking up, so I looked down, and there they all were. The audience—that’s where the picture was.” William Broyles
The Cutler Family by Keith Carter
Houston County, “The Land That Time Remembered” February 1988
“THAT MARVELOUS LIGHT IS WHAT DREW ME,” recalls Keith Carter of photographing the Cutler family a decade ago. This portrait, taken as the sun sank over the family’s 949-acre East Texas farm, was the last he shot that day. “It was the end of the afternoon, and we headed back to the house. They had shown me the barn, the pastures, the creek,” he says of the property that had been handed down from Cutler to Cutler since 1835. “But I was more interested in photographing the family in front of their homeplace. Several generations had been born and raised there.” The actual farm, which was the inspiration for William M. Adler’s accompanying article, “The Land That Time Remembered,” is conspicuously absent from the photograph; instead, Carter locates the landscape in the faces of its custodians, indelibly capturing the determination and grace that had sustained the Cutler family and its farm for a century and a half. “You might not have noticed that house or that family if you had just driven by them,” says Carter, “but by fixing them in a photograph, you are suddenly able to see the poetry of the ordinary.” Pamela Colloff
Truckstop Waitress by Geof Kern
Big Spring, “True Stories” December 1988
GEOF KERN’S AWARD-WINNING WORK for clients such as Neiman Marcus, Microsoft, Levi’s, and Suzanne Vega (he won a Grammy for one of her album covers) is distinguished by ingenious craftsmanship and mind-bending surrealism. But the Dallas photographer was eager to escape the constraints of studio work during the summer of 1988, when he decided to load his wife, their three-month-old son, and a bundle of haute couture clothing into a van and embark on a three-thousand-mile trans-Texas journey in search of working-class models for the designer wear. “It’s good for a photographer to get back to roots, to go out in the world with nothing but a camera,” Kern says. Waitress Karen Croft, discovered cuddling her puppy at a junk shop next door to the Big Spring trailer park where she lived, posed in front of her trailer wearing Stephen Sprouse’s satin slip dress. Unattended by a makeup artist or hair stylist, her skin blanched by the strong light of the West Texas summer sun, Croft seems at first glance a harbinger of waifish, consumptive supermodels like Kate Moss. But a closer look reveals a strength and an inner resource absent in the hothouse creations of the fashion media—a hardy desert perennial instead of a wilting orchid. “There was a natural beauty to her, both inside and out,” Kern remembers. “It’s just as simple as that.” Michael Ennis
Mary Kay Cosmetics Home Party by Larry Fink
Dallas, “Hostile Makeover” November 1995
LARRY FINK SEEMED LIKE THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHER on earth who would fit in at a cosmetics party. When he arrived to photograph the customers and representatives of Mary Kay Cosmetics and BeautiControl for our November 1995 cover story on the two Dallas-based cosmetics companies, Fink wore a safari-like photographer’s jacket with matching khaki pants and appeared to be on a combat mission. (“Is he a communist?” a colorfully dressed BeautiControl woman asked after getting her first look at him.) Most surprising to the women, however, was that he never once asked any of them to pose for a photograph. Instead, he prowled the convention floors at BeautiControl’s annual gathering and lurked in the background at a Mary Kay rep’s Tupperware-style party for potential clients. Then, at the most unexpected moment, he’d lift his small, square Mamiya 6 camera to his face, holding a simple flash in his other hand, and take a shot so quickly that the women weren’t sure whether he was aiming at them.
What resulted was a series of remarkable photographs that cut through the manufactured glamour and captured the essence of a group of women striving to do something significant with their lives. Fink is a master of old-school photojournalism. He doesn’t tell his subjects to do anything; he never asks them to smile or frown. He is simply there, waiting for what he calls “the human personality to show itself.” He has a special affinity, he says, for shooting pictures in Texas: “It’s a wild land with wild people. I always love it when truth is stranger than fiction.” Skip Hollandsworth
IN 1992 DALLAS PHOTOGRAPHER DANNY Turner told art director D. J. Stout that he wanted to do a photo essay on one of the enduring symbols of Texas: big hair. Stout flipped over the idea. He hired researcher Christina Patoski to scour the state for big-haired women, then dispatched both Turner and Patoski on a six-week assignment to photograph an array of women, including a Dallas socialite, a riding instructor, a diner waitress, and an oil company secretary. Stout himself came up with the memorable subject wearing the classic Texas bouffant. Attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock in the early eighties, Stout used to go to a nearby Furr’s cafeteria just to marvel at the gigantic, pinkish beehive of Chris Tiroff, the cafeteria employee who pushed the tea cart around the dining room. When Patoski and Turner checked, they found her right where Stout had last seen her more than a decade before. She agreed to pose for the photo essay, although she couldn’t understand why she was wanted. She kept insisting, “I don’t think my hair is that big.” Skip Hollandsworth
Gatorfest Queen by Michael O’Brien
Anahuac, “The Truth About Texas Beauty” February 1990
A MALE PHOTOGRAPHER FROM MEMPHIS is going to react differently to a story about Texas beauty than a female writer from San Antonio. Every Texas woman eventually has to confront the impossible standards of beauty that have long existed here, and I took the opportunity to do so in “The Truth About Texas Beauty,” which became for me the literary equivalent of an exorcism. In my story, I attempted to come to terms with the image of the tall, thin, blue-eyed Texas blonde that had so tormented my dark-haired, dark-eyed teenage self.
It might have been easier if I’d just gotten in the car with Michael O’Brien. He traveled the length and breadth of the state looking for pretty women, and what he found proved the existence of a new multiethnic beauty: African Americans, Hispanics, even brunettes under five feet ten (like Anahuac’s Gatorfest Queen Shannon Perry). “There was no lack of cooperation,” O’Brien recalls. Out of a dozen shoots, he ran into only one snag: The chaperone of a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader would not let her charge pose for a picture straddling a (stuffed) bucking bull. “I guess you’d say it was unladylike,” O’Brien says. I’d say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Mimi Swartz
Swimsuit Model by Sally Gall
Corpus Christi, “Bathing Beauty” June 1989
THE VERY MOMENT I CALLED SALLY GALL to talk about this picture, she was packaging a print of it to fill a new order. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. This photo, taken more than eight years ago, significantly affected the trajectory of her career. The fine-art photographer was known mostly for her voluptuous, shimmering waterscapes when art director D. J. Stout commissioned a June 1989 photo feature on swimsuit styles. The assignment, undertaken at a beautiful Corpus Christi pool, was among her first attempts at fashion photography or anything in the commercial or editorial realm; like the bather in her photo, she was poised to plunge into a new phase of her career. “I had no professional experience with stylists and hair and makeup and clothes,” says Gall. But perhaps it was precisely that inexperience that explains the lasting appeal of the image—a fashion photo conceived by an artist’s untainted eye.
Gall, a former Houstonian who now lives in New York, today splits her time between commercial and editorial assignments and the fine-art photography that is close to her heart. “This photograph remains a strong image for me,” says Gall. “To this day I get a lot of attention for it.” Jordan Mackay
Spring Break by Brian Smale
South Padre Island, “Gimme a Break” May 1992
TO GET A GREAT SHOT, A PHOTOGRAPHER often experiences external tribulations. But the adversity can also be internal, as photographer Brian Smale became painfully aware when he set out to document spring break on South Padre Island. The scene—which Smale describes as “all these oiled-up bodies just falling all over each other”—involves favorite activities such as volleyball and beer drinking. Besides the requisite hangover and sunburn, what problems could there be? For Brooklyn resident Smale, who stopped in Texas on his way back from the Galápagos, the vacation was a visceral hell: He had dysentery. “I went straight from the airport to the shoot,” he recalls, “and I didn’t realize I was sick. I thought maybe I had traveler’s stomach or something. And it just got worse and worse. I was shooting for three days in this massively hot beach scene, and of course all the outhouses that were set up for the kids had lineups fifty people long.” But Smale persevered, achieving shots such as this deft blend of voyeurism and exhibitionism, which surely left him flushed with pride. Jordan Mackay
ATTENDING TEXAS A&M WAS LIKE ENTERING a closed society whose customs baffled outsiders but made perfect practical sense to us residents. There is powerful magic in the sort of behavior pictured here.
The young men in this photograph, proud Aggies all, are each yelling “Farmers fight!” at full lung capacity. They are in the final doomed moments of a game at Kyle Field. By yelling together in this manner, Aggies are able to transcend their individual selves and become a single fearsome Über-Aggie known as Twelfth Man, a brute spirit with loud opinions. Twelfth Man enabled A&M to dominate Southwest Conference football during years of cultural isolation and problematic recruiting, when such prowess seemed unlikely. It’s only when success seems assured and the odds are favorable that Twelfth Man loses focus and Aggies come to hoarse grief.
Keeping large rural spirits alive in today’s grim Information Age is a daunting task that less stubborn schools would have forsaken long since in favor of generic rah-rah and simple drunkenness. The smug antics of Teasips—those lost souls at t.u.—bear witness to the desperation such shallow faith can lead to. At A&M an entire catechism has been developed to sustain belief in a higher purpose. Clearly the spiritual fervor affected photographer Will van Overbeek, an undercover Teasip who nonetheless managed to capture the Aggie mystique in a single classic shot.
Breathing life into Twelfth Man requires constancy and attention to detail, upholding traditions that have no value outside the tribe but are big medicine for that very reason. The true fundamentalists of this path are the Aggie corps of cadets, like the men in this picture—but all Aggies everywhere, of every condition, share the burden and accept it. There is no Aggie on earth, no matter how profoundly exiled from Aggieland, who does not rejoice at the annual thrashing of t.u.
The next challenge for Twelfth Man is of course the Big Twelve. Because out there across the plains, almost a thousand flat miles away, looms another large, unlikely, old-fashioned rural spirit with bragging rights: Cornhusker.
Farmers fight! Al Reinert
Friday Night Football by Geoff Winningham
Taylor, “Football Heroes” September 1979
IT BEGINS IN THE FURNACE OF AUGUST with two-a-days—the wind sprints and the practice jerseys and the sounds of pads hitting blocking dummies and Coach yelling, “Take another lap.” And then comes the day you dress in that crisp game uniform, slip on your helmet, and become something you but not you—a part of the timeless ritual that culminates on the Friday nights of autumn, when you follow the cheerleaders out through the banners onto the green grass of the field, to the rousing fight song played by the band and to the cheers and dreams of your entire town.
At halftime, Coach doesn’t say much, just pats you on the back, but there’s a look in his eye you haven’t seen before. You go out for the second half, and the holes aren’t there: They’re stuffing you at the line of scrimmage, and you’re always one step too late, your cleats slipping in the mud, your outstretched fingers barely missing their big fullback as he breaks into the clear and the wrong side of the stadium bursts into frenzied cheering. And after the game, the cheerleaders’ tears mingle with the rain, and back in the visitors locker room with the cold cement floor, no one looks anyone in the eye, and you pull off that jersey for the last time and drop it in a soggy mess, and the pads are sticking to your skin, and you ache all over, but the biggest hurt is in your heart. And you know you will never do this again.
That moment is what Geoff Winningham captured in the photograph on page 68, one of many in his memorable book Rites of Fall. The players and cheerleaders and drum majors are approaching forty or so now. They have gotten jobs and lost them, married, maybe divorced; some even are dead. They have boys and girls of their own playing beneath those same Friday night lights. Their own games are more than half a lifetime away, but in Geoff’s photograph, the moment is always immediate and always now. “I remember the rain, the game, being in the locker room, but I don’t remember taking this specific picture,” he says. “And then, back in the darkroom, I saw it emerge on the contact sheet, and I thought, ‘There it is.’” William Broyles
Cheerleading Sisters by Laura Wilson
Mullin, “Twelve Yards and a Cloud of Dust” November 1995
LAURA WILSON PROPOSED OUR NOVEMBER 1995 story on six-man high school football. For several years the Dallas-based photographer had been working in the cattle-ranching country of West Texas, where the freewheeling, high-scoring game thrives. She got hooked on the village spectacle and dispatched to Texas Monthly photos from several towns and teams that grabbed our attention. I spoke up for the assignment.
One phone call confirmed that the piece had a strong story line, and it was event-specific. The hamlet of Mullin had rallied around a team led by a running back billed as the Earl Campbell of six-man football. A local booster, Phil Watts, was using his Brownwood radio station to promote the Bulldogs’ game against Weldon Valley, Colorado, as the “Super Bowl of Six-Man.” His cheerleader daughters were named Tami and Taffy. It was can’t-miss material.
I watched Laura shoot Mullin’s pep rally with solemn thoroughness. During the frantic game, she pressed far too close to the sidelines; I feared we would have to cart her off on a stretcher. But in several shots, including the one of Tami (at right) and Taffy, she juxtaposed elements in unexpected ways that convey the timeless union of a pastime, a locale, and a way of life. Of course, people move on, and girls wield more than pom-poms. A standout tennis player, Taffy now competes for Howard Payne University. Tami, twice an all-district basketball player at Mullin, transferred eleven miles last fall to archrival Zephyr, where she is a junior on a state-ranked team. They’re called the Bulldogs too. Jan Reid
Kilgore Rangerette by O. Rufus Lovett
Tyler, State of the Art August 1990
O. RUFUS LOVETT GETS A BIG KICK OUT OF photographing the Kilgore Rangerettes. The Longview resident, a photography professor at Kilgore College, has spent almost a decade documenting the school’s nonpareil precision drill team. This 1990 shot of Pauline Arrillaga warming up before a football game in Tyler demonstrates a Rangerette requirement: She must be able to raise her leg high enough to touch the brim of her hat with her boot. Arrillaga’s face is so relaxed, Lovett says with a laugh, that “some people ask me if there are two women in the picture.” Arrillaga herself, now a reporter with the Associated Press in Harlingen, gained a degree of fame for this one frozen instant. “I went back to Kilgore to visit a few years later,” she recalls, “and everyone introduced me as ‘the girl in the Texas Monthly photo.’” Anne Dingus
Fay Ray in Custom Boots by William Wegman
New York, “Get Along, Little Doggies” December 1989
WILLIAM WEGMAN IS ONE OF THOSE RARE artists who have evolved from avant-garde fixture to pop-culture icon. His crossover success began in the seventies, when he cast a hammy weimaraner named Man Ray (after the twenties-era photographic innovator) in a series of wackily on-the-edge photos and videos. Fay Ray (no relation to Man) had inherited the starring role when she modeled a sampling of some of Texas’ most prestigious cowboy-boot lines in Wegman’s New York studio in 1989. With Scriabin playing in the background—Wegman always shoots to classical music—the artist posed his malleable but somewhat troublesome muse in front of a massive, six-foot-tall Polaroid camera that almost instantly yields 20- by 24-inch prints. “She had the most quirks of any of my dogs,” Wegman says of Fay, who recently died but left a litter of new stars. “I had to work around a lot of her problems. But that’s what gave her a kind of aura, an intensity. She approached her work in a ferocious, serious way. You can’t laugh at her even though she’s doing something kind of silly.”
Shot from the tail end, custom-made French-calfskin boots headed in the wrong direction, Fay Ray might have been ripe for parody, but her direct, soulful gaze—the camera-savvy pooch had a knack for staring into the lens whenever Wegman said, “Ready, Fay”—preserves her dignity. Wegman shot about fifty jumbo Polaroids in the session, but this image stood out at the end of the day. “Something kind of magical happened in that one—I broke some of my usual compositional clichés,” he says. “The really outstanding shots just jump out of nowhere.” Michael Ennis
Rattlesnake Wrangler by Jim Cammack
Sweetwater, State of the Art April 1992
“THE SWEETWATER JAYCEES HAVE THIS RATTLESNAKE roundup every year in March,” says Jim Cammack, a former East Texas resident who now lives in Bayfield, Colorado. “They sell the skins, the rattles, and the meat and use the venom for research and to make antivenin. I’d been there before and felt like there was more to it than what I saw the first time around, so I went back to the 1991 roundup with my camera. “What’s going on in the photo is that a snake handler is milking the venom. He would put a really big snake between his legs so it wouldn’t wiggle so much. Of course, he had a good grip on its head. I stood around the pit for quite a while looking at the situation, thinking, ‘There’s something here,’ before I realized my shot is behind the guy. I just thought it was a strange perspective.” Joe Nick Patoski
Small-Town Rodeo Cowboys by Mary Ellen Mark
Boerne, “Rodeo, Texas, USA” March 1992
IN THE SUMMER OF 1991 TEXAS MONTHLY invited internationally celebrated photographer Mary Ellen Mark to chronicle small-town Texas rodeo life. Mark, a New Yorker, has long been fascinated with photographing small-scale, family-run circuses all over the world, and the rodeo—with its pageantry, daredevilry, animals, and clowns—is the Texas equivalent. In a single month she traveled to rodeos in a dozen towns, including Big Spring, Boerne, Leakey, Pecos, and Sanderson. Her outsider’s eye helped produce one of the magazine’s most talked-about and controversial photo essays.
Instead of focusing solely on archetypal action scenes—bronc busters and bull riders—she aimed her camera at the crowds who turn out for the rodeos and the townspeople who participate in the attendant parades and sideshows. Some readers criticized Mark for depicting so many grim, solemn-looking people, but what others saw in the photographs was a fierce, unyielding pride. Although in late-twentieth-century Texas, small-town residents have about as much contact with cowboy life as city slickers do, the annual rodeo gives them a chance to celebrate the fading pioneer qualities of independence and individualism. By focusing on the social whirl as well as the arena festivities, Mark captured the heart of a community determined to hold on to its heritage. Skip Hollandsworth