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I am a right-brained individual. Being right-brained is somewhat like being left-handed. There was a time when one was simply forbidden to be left-handed, and there was a time when I tried to convince myself I was left-brained.
Today, as I approach the latter years of my earthly life, my right-brained, creative efforts center in photography after a long hiatus. One interest I have in photography centers around the need to document the world we live in. In this world, nothing ever stays the same. The restaurant in Fort Worth where I asked my wife to marry me, The Farmer’s Daughter, no longer exists. The restaurant, the Shangri-La just north of Waco on I-35, where I took her to eat our first meal on our honeymoon no longer exists. Nothing but grass grows there now. But I have also found that photographic images often give us a chance to see things we might have missed the first time around, things that show us a deeper layer, levels of meaning, as though the lens has a way of penetrating beyond the surface of things to the heart.
My interest in photography as a story-telling medium goes back quite a while to my college days when a good friend showed me his new camera, an East German 35mm film camera, the Hanimex Practica Super TL. He showed me the dark room he was putting together in a small closet in a house that was probably smaller than most of the walk-in closets in west Austin half a block from TCU campus in Fort Worth, Texas. He took me to K-Mart so I could buy the same camera.
During those days, I took photos of everything and spent hours in my friend’s dark room developing black-and-whites when I should have been studying for the graduate classes in English Literature I was taking on a fellowship at TCU. I so wanted a dark room of my own. But to have a darkroom of my own would take equipment my new wife and I could not afford on a graduate stipend, space we did not have, and time which my graduate studies and the freshman comp class I was teaching did not permit. My right brain would have to wait patiently as my left brain dominated my life. It would be a while before I found my way back to photography.
Though one might be tempted to say I lost my way in the days of my youth, my present perspective tells me I needed a little time to develop needed perspective. I needed to think about how we as human beings make meaning out of our life and how we use story to make meaning.
I needed time to clarify my vision of the world we live in, and that clarification required, for this young man, four years of seminary. But to see the world requires a lifetime of growing up, and after seminary came years of work in Christian ministry, three children, a struggle with breast cancer that my wife and I managed to survive, a return to graduate school.
The bent of my graduate studies the second time around gave me the time and opportunity to develop my writing skills. I wrote a number of short stories, had a couple published, dabbled in poetry. I was becoming more comfortable with the idea of being a creator, but photography had apparently sunk into the bog at the bottom of my unconscious as my time was now consumed by a faculty position teaching writing in a university.
In 2001 my wife, Donnie, who has spent a lifetime since those college days in Fort Worth helping me sharpen my vision, and I took some time to see Italy. In a way, it was a coming full circle. In high school, she had written a paper on Pompei. In college, I had studied Ghiberti’s doors. We got to see both with our own eyes – along with much else of the ancient beauty of Italy. For that trip, we bought our first digital camera, a little point-and-shoot that would fit in my shirt pocket. And after that trip, over several years, as I examined the photos, one caught my eye as something more than a vacation picture.
The first decade of the twenty-first century passed. And now in this teen decade, that little point-and-shoot digital we took to Italy is no longer made. Nor is the second, the third, or the fourth camera I invested in. The digital revolution was running a marathon at a four-minute mile pace.
For my part, it did not take too long to become dissatisfied with even a more sophisticated point-and-shoot. Shutter reaction time was too slow. Lenses did not focus sharply. The photographs were the size of postage stamps with too little resolution to be useful. I needed better equipment.
It would take better hardware, better software; it would take the very best that I had to offer, the best of my right brain and the best of my left brain to tell the story I need to tell, and without question the story in my head was in pictures.
Summer 1961, I was playing 17-and-under baseball for Coach James Whittenburg at Panther Boys Club in Fort Worth. We went to San Antonio to play in the state tournament and stayed in a barracks at Fort Sam Houston. Friday afternoon we played and lost. We were out of the tournament. Saturday, while coach was occupied with the two younger teams still playing, we “older” guys were on our own. Several of the boys on the team wandered off base and found a bar few blocks away. It had refrigerated window units and a pool table. The bartender, who was probably the owner, was willing to let us come out of the summer heat and play pool. The Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese was on television. What could be better than that! On a sweltering day in San Antonio in the middle of summer to be in that cool air playing pool with my buds and watching baseball on TV.
One of the older men sitting at the bar, probably a regular, asked the bartender to sing. The bartender declined. But the man kept asking, and the others joined in. I remember to this day the bartender’s clear, baritone voice as he sang.
“Granada, I'm falling under your spell,
And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell.
Of an age the world has long forgotten,
Of an age that weaves a silent magic in Granada today.”
It was an almost mystical experience for a high school boy as I was transported to another world. Afterward, for many years, I thought the song was about the historical Granada in Spain, which my wife and I have now visited.
But now I am convinced the song is a vision of a mythical Granada, a golden kingdom that once was and will one day be again. It would still be a years before I would learn that the myths of men about a golden age represent their longings for the great kingdom of the King of kings, world without end.
Now, all around us, I see evidence of another world, a world full of grace and truth. I hope to show you in my photographs something, a hint at least, of that other world.