2015 Archives

Laura Wilson’s rare photographs showcase the American West

Excerpt

The following is from the August 28, 2015, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Laura Wilson, author of That Day: Pictures in the American West, is a member of the board of directors for SMU's William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies. The introduction to her book was written by Andrew R. Graybill, center director.

August 31, 2015

By Michael Granberry
The Dallas Morning News

Book cover for That Day: Pictures in the American West by Laura Wilson
The book, which is being published in association with the Clements Center, will be available Oct. 13, 2015, from Yale University Press and others.

Hollywood actor Owen Wilson has in his home "a great picture that my mom took of Donald Judd. He's a great artist, and it's in Marfa. It may have been one of the last photographs of him that was taken before he passed away."

Owen pauses and says, "I think of her as my mom, and my mom is an artist." The picture of Judd "is an artist taking a picture of an artist. Maybe that's why she's able to get such good photographs. She has the eye of an artist."

Indeed she does. Laura Wilson's lavish new book is That Day: Pictures in the American West. It is 231 pages of stunning images, which include mostly black-and-white portraits of fighter pilots, lion hunters, six-man high school football players, Hutterites and other images of the American West.

She explores dogfighting and cockfighting, debutantes, border issues, Lambshead Ranch in West Texas and the isolation and poverty of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Her portraits of memorable faces include those of singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore, actor Harry Dean Stanton, playwright Sam Shepard and an artist-photographer who influenced her own work, the great Richard Avedon.

In addition to the book, Wilson will open on Saturday her second major exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, where "That Day: Laura Wilson" will showcase 74 photographs. As with many born during World War II, Wilson grew up watching Western movies and reading the cowboy literature of America's wild West.

"There is the myth and the romantic West, which are, of course, deep within me, growing up as I did in the 1950s," she says. "I was very interested in the painting and the architecture of the West. I like the open space. I like everything about it."

Laura Wilson
Laura Wilson

She hails from "a little country town" in Massachusetts, "so I like country people. I'm familiar with country people. I've just always liked the West. There are certain topographies that are within your soul. It happens to be for me that it's the West. It still thrills me to see a vast expanse of land with the sky coming right down to the horizon line."

Wilson's book evolved from a conversation she shared with Andrew R. Graybill on a chilly night in 2011. Graybill is director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University. The Clements Center is co-publishing the book with the Yale University Press.

In the foreword, Graybill writes that one of Wilson's photographs, taken at a debutante ball in Laredo, "was emblematic of her larger body of work, showing us a West that is unfamiliar and riddled with paradoxes." For instance, he writes, "if the Colonial Ball was intended to symbolize the relative racial accommodation governing Laredo, what should we make of the juxtaposition between the blonde girl at the center of the image and her two Mexican assistants?"

He raves about her photographs of the Hutterites of Montana, who, like their "spiritual cousins," the Amish and the Mennonites, "have forsworn the trappings and conveniences of the modern world (including photography), only to find themselves increasingly ensnared by them."

Read the full story.