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.