Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986

by Kenneth E. Foote

This year's sesquicentennial celebration
has focussed attention on Texas and its
history as few events can. The flurry of
activity which has greeted the anniversary
of the Republic has inspired more
than parades and proclamations. The
Sesquicentennial has become the pivot
for wide-ranging appraisals of Texas history
which will serve the state long into
the future. One of the most significant of
these accomplishments has been the
Texas Historic Photography Project of
the Texas Historical Foundation. The
project's immediate achievements can be
measured in its already well reviewed Historic
Texas: A Photographic Portrait and
Contemporary Texas: A Photographic Portrait,
both published this year by Texas
Monthly Press. However, the potential of
its work extends beyond these two volumes.
The project may mark a watershed
for photographic art in Texas. It has
opened the door to Texas' historic and
contemporary photography and promises
more: a state-wide guide to photographic
collections; improved conservation of the
state's photographic collections; and, for
the future, perhaps more regular and systematic
photographic surveys of Texas.
If one person could be credited for the
success of the Historic Photography
Project, it would be William P. Wright,
Jr., from Abilene, who is on the Board of
Directors of the Texas Historical Foundation.
Beginning in 1980, and continuing
through project funding by the DuPont
Corporation and its Conoco subsidiary in
1984, Mr. Wright nurtured the idea of a
Sesquicentennial photography survey,
gained the support of the Texas Historical
Foundation, and enlisted others to his
vision.
By 1982, three of Texas' most respected
photographic curators had assumed editorship
of the project. The combined expertise
of General Editor Martha A.
Sandweiss, Curator of Photographs,
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; Associate
Editor Roy Flukinger, Curator of
Photography, Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, The University of Texas
at Austin; and Contributing Editor
Anne W. Tucker, Gus and Lyndall

The Reverend George Mayfield Daniel and his
son. Gelatin silver print, circa 1908.
Courtesy of Sam Houston Regional Library and
Research Center.
Wortham Curator, Works on Paper, Museum
of Fine Arts, Houston; guaranteed a
comprehensive vision of Texas photography
sensitive to subject, technique, style,
and history. When funding was approved
by Dupont and Conoco in 1984, Richard
Pearce-Moses joined the project to visit
photographic collections in the Lone Star
State, and find the best historic photographs
Texas could offer. Twelve thousand
miles and two years later, he had
thumbed his way through nearly five hundred
thousand photographs to submit a
selection of two thousand to the editors
who chose the three hundred and sixty
photographs included in Historic Texas.
The same year, sixteen photographers
were invited to join the project on the
basis of their proposals for in-depth surveys
of the character of contemporary
Texas. William A. Owens and Stephen
Harrigan agreed to write the essays which
preface the two volumes.
The ease with which the Historic Photography
Project progressed may testify to
the value of a good idea and the hard
work of its proponents, but it isn't the
whole story. From the beginning, the
project's editors and the Texas Historical
Foundation were faced with the difficult
task of setting goals for the survey. Originally,
a single volume survey was envisioned.
It was not to be an illustrated history
of Texas, but rather a more definitive

record of photography in Texas. The images
could serve to supplement traditional
histories of Texas, but the editors
sought to pursue the more difficult task of
documenting how photographers, Texan
and non-Texan alike, dealt with Texas
and its unique range of subjects, from
soon after the founding of the Republic
up to the present. The first viable photographic
process, daguerreotype, was announced
in 1839, just three years after
Texas independence, but few photographs
have survived from before the
1870s. It was clear that documentary
photography was to be preferred to abstract
pictorial images but, beyond this
predilection, the editors were still faced
with the formidable task of picturing,
with a few hundred photographs, the entire
state of Texas. At the same time, it
was seen as absolutely essential that the
photographs be matched with words that
set the images in context and pointed the
reader to the extensive photoarchives of
the state.
At this point, a second volume of
photographs was considered. Historical
photographs were still the focus of the
survey, but they alone did not permit the
in-depth appraisal of Texas places, people,
and events which befitted a comprehensive
survey. A single volume couldn't
reflect adequately the contemporary
efflorescence of photography in Texas.
For these reasons, the project's goals came
to be expressed in the creation of two
books.
9

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed August 2, 2014.