52 Chapters
Medium 9781603442015

Springing to Life Keeping the Waters Flowing

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

Dianne Wassenich

SPRINGS seem miraculous to me. Water pouring from the ground! The sight of it reminds me of the nature books I read as a child, like Gene Stratton-Porter’s Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost and the fairy tales that told of spring water having magical properties.

Go stand on the lowest porch of the Texas Rivers Center in San Marcos and look at one of the springs that feed the San Marcos River flowing into Spring Lake. It is a strong flow, strong enough to ripple the surface in a rainy year when water is plentiful. But even in the dry years, when the sight may be different, I’m drawn again and again to this deep blue spring. I think of the countless people who have admired the flowing water at this spot, one of the oldest continually inhabited sites in North America.

Central Texas can be dry, with predictable droughtlike stretches in summer for at least a few hot months. Though the archeological records include longer and far worse drought periods, the local yardstick remains the great drought of the 1950s, when nearby Comal Springs stopped flowing and San Marcos Springs slowed to a trickle.

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Texas Rivers and Tributaries

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

I HAVE photographed the living waters of Texas for over twenty years, but at the beginning of my photography career I was more interested in places like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the mysterious slot canyons of southeastern Utah. I took pictures in Texas only when I stopped to rest during the long trips out west. But as the good images piled up, I found the streams and springs of my home state, from the West Fork of the Frio River or the wetlands of Aransas Wildlife Refuge to the Neches River bottomlands and the watery canyons of Big Bend Ranch State Park, to be the most extraordinary places of all. And I know there is much more to be found on private land, like a waterfall I have seen in deep East Texas that has never been photographed and doesn’t even have a name.

Yet just as Edward Curtis photographed the “vanishing Indians” one hundred years ago, I sense that I am photographing the vanishing waters of Texas. The Rio Grande in Big Bend is now more like the “Rio Poco,” the Middle Fork of the Pease River has dried up, and Jacob’s Well in the Hill Country stopped flowing for the first time in 2000. Larry McKinney, in his 1973 essay “Troubled Water,” states that “of the original 31 large springs (in Texas), only 17 remain. None of those springs stopped flowing because of natural causes.”

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Medium 9781574416565

People

Byrd M. Williams IV University of North Texas Press ePub

Title page to Byrd III photograph album

THE FACES THAT INHABIT ONE'S LIFE are also connected to a mutually shared experience, whether it is an insider that occupies the fabric of your reality or a transient in and out of your orbit like a waiter in a restaurant, never to be seen again.

All of the Byrd Williamses made portraits for a variety of reasons. Sometimes as a hired hand for vanity, sometimes for editorial information, but much of the time it was for nothing. For lack of a better term, it was for art.

Shortly after arriving in Gainesville, Texas, my great-grandfather set about photographing people he encountered. An untrained but enthusiastic amateur, his work included carefully executed records of local acquaintances, an endeavor common to the new “roll film” era photography was entering.

By 1885, Granddad had taken up the hobby and was encouraged by earning extra money shooting portraits of locals across the range of hamlets between Fort Worth and the Red River. Small communities within wagon distance of Gainesville that featured churches and the occasional town square such as Myra, Era, Muenster, Henrietta, Sanger, Bowie, and Whitesboro. Wherever he lived, my grandfather continued making two-dimensional replicas of people's faces for the rest of his life.

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The Family Album

Byrd M. Williams IV University of North Texas Press ePub

WALKING INTO THIS ARCHIVE is to walk among the dead. Many I knew and many I am just getting to know through their words and faces, but now I am one of the last remaining survivors in this Borgesian library of images. It was fiendishly comical when I noticed the irony of what has taken place: Middle class transubstantiation. Instead of bread and wine turning into the body and blood of Christ, four generations of my forebears’ bodies and blood have turned into paper and silver.

For me, photography is about death. It didn't used to be, but I'm sixty-four and everybody in the room is dead and I can't remember why I was so obsessed with saving their lives in two-dimensional facsimile. Perhaps all these years I have been trying to nail down what Ian McEwen refers to as our brief spark of consciousness.

It was never about the money; I could have done better mowing lawns. There was always this urgency about it: save all historic buildings, remember all the faces, stand on all the street corners, save everybody's toilet, share my experience with posterity, I was alive goddammit.

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Photographs

Byrd M. Williams IV University of North Texas Press ePub

WALKING INTO THIS ARCHIVE is to walk among the dead. Many I knew and many I am just getting to know through their words and faces, but now I am one of the last remaining survivors in this Borgesian library of images. It was fiendishly comical when I noticed the irony of what has taken place: Middle class transubstantiation. Instead of bread and wine turning into the body and blood of Christ, four generations of my forebears’ bodies and blood have turned into paper and silver.

For me, photography is about death. It didn't used to be, but I'm sixty-four and everybody in the room is dead and I can't remember why I was so obsessed with saving their lives in two-dimensional facsimile. Perhaps all these years I have been trying to nail down what Ian McEwen refers to as our brief spark of consciousness.

It was never about the money; I could have done better mowing lawns. There was always this urgency about it: save all historic buildings, remember all the faces, stand on all the street corners, save everybody's toilet, share my experience with posterity, I was alive goddammit.

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