And now...from Austin

By Sharon Stewart

First in a series on photography in Texas, by Sharon Stewart

It was 1976 on Austin's "Drag," a time and place when being who or what one desired was a seemingly easy reality. Musicians, vendors, persuaders, beggars, street people — they were the col­or that played to the Leica-hipped shooters carrying forth the docu­mentary and street shooting tradi­tions of Russell Lee and Garry Winogrand, both former profes­sors at The University of Texas.

Dan Schweers, a photographer for Austin's underground news­paper, The Bag, wondered about the destination of the photographs being taken. The answer - pri­vate showings or none at all — proved unsatisfactory to Schweers, so he took it upon himself to es­tablish a forum. The result - the Book of Days, a calendar featuring over sixty Austin photographers.
Austin's vibrant photographic fabric derives its texture from galleries, workshops, a museum, university course work, a photo­graphic society, The University of Texas Photographic Collection and auxiliary spaces, organizations and publications. It seems relevant to begin this story on Austin's photo­graphic community with the Book of Days, as this portable gallery embodies the Austin community's evolution in attitude and actions. "It is the thread that weaves it all together," observes Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, curator of Austin's Laguna Gloria Art Museum (LGAM).
Originally a local theme-piece, the Book of Days now encom­passes photographs selected from across the state by a jury of nationally recognized photogra­phers, curators and photo histor­ians. Dan Schweers has published three of the six editions of the book. Those who have collabor­ated through the years in editing, publishing and even collating brought impressive talents to the project. Photographers John van Beekum. Roy Flukinger, curator of the Photography Collection at UT, Ellen Wallenstein, UT Art Department faculty member, Phyllis Frede, commercial pho­tographer, Ave Bonar and Randy Ehlich have served on selection committees.
Sponsoring organizations have included LGAM with the grant and staff assistance of the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Aus­tin. LGAM and the Austin Con­temporary Visual Arts Association (ACVAA) have lent their gallery spaces for the accompanying exhi­bition. As the contributors' list continues to grow, it becomes clear that Austin possesses an ef­fusive amount of photographic energy. Photographs selected for the 1984 Book of Days will be published in 1985 according to Dan Schweers who, at this writ­ing, is negotiating with a publish­er's representative for national distribution of the publication.
Bill Boulton's gallery space within Accent Photography-at 607 Trinity, just off the raucous 6th Street bar and entertainment dis­trict, began in response to photog­raphers who solicited him to show their work on the studio's empty, inviting walls visible to the steady crowd seeking Boulton's services.
Boulton has kept the system simple: the photographer, upon approval, lakes responsibility for the hanging, publicizing and open­ing of the show. As long as pho­tographers keep coming, Boulton will continue to hang their work.
Jerry Sullivan knew he wanted to exhibit photographs when he opened his Precision Camera re­pair business in 1981 at 3004 Guadalupe, also home of the Austin Photographic Gallery. Sul­livan has displayed the work of numerous Austin photographers, as well as Edward S. Curtis' pho­togravures. Having sold little, Sullivan feels the community isn't interested in buying or serious col­lecting, but he plans future shows and welcomes portfolios for consideration.
Joe Englander, coming to the same realizations about the pho­tographic audience, set off on an evangelistic mission to educate. Starting with the fine prints in his personal collection, he opened his Gallery 104 (Congress Avenue) with partner and gallery director, Kay Keesee in 1981.
While waiting to interview Eng­lander, I perused the Caponigro, Adams, Englander, Cole and Ed­ward Weston prints on view in the reception area of the split-level ex­hibition space. The Weston prints were only a hint of a Gallery 104 coup: the largest Weston show Texas has seen, one enhanced by a four-day workshop with Cole Weston. Englander also engaged Dick Arentz for a platinum and palla­dium print process workshop and has signed John Sexton, former technical assistant to Ansel Adams, to conduct a weekend seminar during his January-Feb­ruary 1984 exhibition.
Local and regional work has not been slighted in Englander's gal­lery. A show featuring photographs of the Big Bend selected from public submissions imple­mented the images taken of the national park by Texan Richard Fenker. Prints from the 1983 Book of Days were on view at Gallery 104 this year, as were those of the Austin Photographic Cooperative Members' exhibition this spring.
Despite this activity, Englander laments the exposure the work has had. He feels that students at the universities have not been urged to use the gallery as an opportunity to see beyond themselves and learn from assessing diverse im­ages. But he will keep showing work by the likes of Edward S. Curtis, Don Worth and John Sexton in an attempt to cultivate appreciation and to encourage photographers and collectors.
In October, sponsorship of The Photowork Gallery at 309½ Con­gress passed from Bill Kennedy and partner Joe Labry to The Texas Photographic Society. The Society plans to continue the Gal­lery's original goals to hang the best work they can find and to provide regional artists a stage for showing their work and Hexing their muscles. Recently featured were the varied color works Austin photographers are producing in "Live and in Color from Austin. Texas." Ellen Wallenstein curated another recent exhibition of 40 works by local photographers, "Looking Inward - Photographers Photograph Themselves." It was funded by Women and Their Work, an Austin-based organization active in all areas of art. The group also sponsored this year's HCP Members' exhibition in Aus­tin and originated "The Ties That Bind - Photographers Portray the Family." which continues to tour the country.
The Texas photographic society, formerly the Austin Photographic Cooperative, began as an invita­tion-only buying co-op and evolved into a non-profit, open-membership organization. Besides operating the Photowork Gallery, they hold an annual members show and produce a quarterly newsletter, inspired in part by the success of the Houston Center for Photography.
Also in October Kennedy and Labry turned over the activities of the Lone Star Photographic Workshop to the Laguna Gloria Art Museum where photography students can still enroll in classes and workshops. Kennedy con­tinues as the Director of St. Ed­wards University's three-year-old Photocommunications program which espouses a liberal arts ap­proach to photography. Plans are in progress at St Edwards for a fine arts center that will house studios, a small gallery, plus black and white and color darkrooms.
The University of Texas offers courses in the Art Department as well as a Masters degree in photo­journalism from the School of Communication.
The uplifting corollary to all this activity is the potential photog­raphers have for showing their work. Beyond those places I have detailed here, photographs can often be seen in the Admur Gal­lery (307 E. 5th), the Bois D'Arc Gallery in the Brazos Book Shop (803 Red River) or the Austin Public Library. The UT student newspaper, The Daily Texan, is running more photo essays; Third Coast magazine features an Austin photographer monthly. Austin's entertainment bi-weekly, Vie Austin Chronicle, sponsored and published a photography competi­tion last year. ACVAA's annual member exhibition has consistently represented photography.
For more experienced photographers, there is the reward of showing at Laguna Gloria An Museum or in receiving UT'sPai­sano Fellowship to work at the late Texas writer J. Frank Dobie's ranch. Paisano grew out of Do­bie's dream for artists to have the time and solitude to concentrate on a project.
Laguna Gloria is an ambitious museum with a strong commit­ment to photography. The new museum being planned for down­town will include an environmen­tally controlled prim gallery. In the meantime, Carlozzi has initi­ated a program featuring a number of photographs by an Austin pho­tographer each month on the mu­seum's mezzanine level.
Austin seems to be a city that is bursting its provincialism and laid-back "mañana" attitudes. I can think of no better recipient of this new enthusiasm than those who can record it.