Thoughts on shooting the Forts and Missions of Texas

In February I launched a week-long project to photograph several of the historic forts and missions of Texas. I find both to be an important part of Texas and US history. With this in mind, I wanted to capture the beauty and peacefulness of these places. (Note that the photographs in this post either did not make the final cut or are only for documentation.)

For this trip, I invited Dad along as he seemed to really enjoy last years trip through Arizona and Utah and I bought him a camera for Christmas so I wanted him to have a good opportunity to use it.

Our first stop was San Antonio. We woke up at 2am to shoot the moonrise over the Alamo. It was mostly cloudy, but there were just enough breaks to make me hopeful. While we were waiting, we met a security guard walking around the premises and talked with him for a while. Later, a very drunk or high or mentally challenged lady was cussing me out from the other side of the street trying to get my attention. I dared not to turn around as I wasn’t much interested in what she had to see at that point.

The clouds were still thick and no sign of the moon coming through. We were about to leave when we finally caught a break. Unfortunately it was already high in the sky and further south than I expected so I didn’t get the shot that I wanted. To make matters worse, all of the chains and posts in the foreground were an eye-sore that I simply couldn’t get around. I’ll just keep this as a documentary photo.

Alamo at moonrise, with a belligerent woman behind me cussing me out.

Alamo after moonrise, with a belligerent woman behind me cussing me out at 3:30am.

The next day we spent visiting each of the missions along the Mission Walk. Some were more photogenic than others. The best was the San Jose mission. Large, lots of rooms, doors, windows, and arches. Plenty of opportunities.

Dad shooting the chapel at San Francisco de la Espada mission.

Dad shooting the chapel at San Francisco de la Espada mission.

San Jose Mission arches

Arch windows at Mission San Jose.

Defensive Turret at Mission San Jose

Defensive Turret at Mission San Jose

Presidio de San Saba

Presidio de San Saba

After shooting into the early afternoon, we moved on down the road to Menard and stayed the night. In the morning we photographed Presidio de San Saba at sunrise, but there wasn’t much left of the fort and I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired as it had been mostly reconstructed.

We went down the road to Fort McKavett which was pretty cool. Many of the buildings are locked and the insides are staged with period furnishings so you can look through the windows. There are a few interesting ruins though that you can go into. These were my favorite.

Ruins at Fort McKavett

Ruins at Fort McKavett

Through a window at Fort McKavett

Through a window at Fort McKavett

Fort McKavett Bakery

Fort McKavett Bakery

Our next stop was the Calera Chapel in Balmorhea. This was a great little church to photograph. Because it was still in use, the door was unlocked and there was no one there so we had free reign. We shot sunset, had dinner in town, and then came back to try some night shooting. We got creative with our headlamps. It was fun but spooky at the same time as it was pitch black out there. It gets very dark in the desert with no moon.

Inside the Calera Chapel, late afternoon

Inside the Calera Chapel, late afternoon

Playing around with the headlamps. I'd trip the shutter, run inside, and paint dad with the light. Took several tries to get it just right.

Playing around with the headlamps. I’d trip the shutter, run inside, and paint dad with the light. Took several tries to get it just right.

Fort Davis Ruins

Fort Davis Ruins

 

After a quick sunrise shoot at the chapel, Fort Davis was next on the list. This is a huge place, but I didn’t find it to be as scenic as McKavett. Interesting photographs abound, but not exactly what I was looking for. Regardless, we spent a few hours there exploring most of the grounds before moving on to the border town of Presidio, home to Fort Leaton.

 

 

 

My buddy Jeff and I had briefly visited Fort Leaton the year before on our Big Bend trip, but we didn’t stay long enough to photograph. I saw enough to know that I desperately wanted to return. For me, Fort Leaton was the highlight of the trip. Beautiful soft light, natural southwest architecture, rugged and dirty but tidy and clean at the same time – just a fun, inspirational place to photograph with a multitude of possible compositions.

Fort Leaton Architecture

Fort Leaton Architecture

Fort Leaton Supply Room

Fort Leaton Supply Room

Dad next to a HUGE cart!

Dad next to a HUGE cart!

Wood Planes in the blacksmith shop

Wood Planes in the blacksmith shop

Terlingua Ruins

Terlingua Ruins

The next day we drove to Terlingua and photographed there. Terlingua is half ghost town, half tourist trap. And the line between the two is blurry. Some of the buildings are difficult to distinguish between abandoned ruins and working shops. Most of the ruins are small and not kept up, so it was common to see evidence of people having used them as overnight drinking locales. This made for a very run-down feel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; a few of my favorite photographs here actually have trash in them!

Terlingua Window with stacked rocks

Terlingua Window with stacked rocks

After shooting Terlingua for a few hours, we had lunch at Study Butte and drove down to Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park for a quick peak. I wanted Dad to see it, as I consider it to be Texas’ most impressive geologic structure. Santa Elena is difficult to shoot, but we were gifted with some nice clouds.

Santa Elena Boardwalk

Santa Elena Boardwalk

On the way out of Santa Elena, we stopped to shoot some bluebonnets that were attracting some bees. I wanted to Dad to see how much fun it was to work with a macro lens. Then, deciding to cut the trip short so we could spend a day processing and discussing his photographs, we drove 9 hours straight home.

Blue Bonnet Bee

You are invited to see the nine choice photographs from this trip at my home gallery show on September 26th 2015, in Pearland, TX, 5pm-9pm. Email me now to reserve your spot!

Texas: God & Men

*This is a follow-up from my previous post about my next photography project.*

I truly love monochrome (black & white) photographs. They take me to an alternate reality. I love working with them in the digital dark-room as the process seems natural to me.  Monochrome emphasizes light, texture, and detail, and invokes drama and mystery in a way that a photograph with color can really only hint at.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy color also; but color photographs tell a completely different story and have a different set of strengths.

White House - Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

White House – Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

I also love dramatic light that sometimes even seems tangible. I love how light bursts through a window and reflects off of the floor of a dark room to subtly lighten up the stone or adobe walls from below.  Everyday objects like a table or a chair glow like they were posing for a timeless portrait.

History.  Well, it’s important that we are aware of where we come from.  As a state, as a nation, as a society. Many have sacrificed much, and still do, for the rich lifestyles that even the poorest of us enjoy.

I want to use my photography to take these three concepts and meld them together.  I want to create beautifully lit, detailed, and monochromatic images of historical locations in Texas that played an important part in our past – particularly forts and missions.  Unfortunately, most of these forts and missions no longer exist… some wasting away to nothing, some destroyed, and others having been disassembled into raw materials to be used elsewhere.  But I’ve found a handful of them that still stand, although some only a skeleton of the past.  I will be visiting several of these over the next two months to create a collection of photographs that will represent a huge part of what made Texas the state that it is today. I’m not a native Texan so it’s exciting for me to go out and explore these places and learn how each played a part in our history.

In case you’re curious, here is a map that I put together of most of the locations that I will be visiting over the course of at least two week-long trips.  I won’t hit each location on this map, but most of them.  I will begin my first trip next week and expect to be finished around April.  The green markers are “High Priority” targets: San Antonio Missions NHP, Presidio La Bahia Fort, Fort Leaton, Fort Davis, Fort Phantom Hill, Fort Concho, and Fort Stockton. I also plan to visit the Battleship Texas, which is not on this map.