Nothing can capture a time and a place quite like a photograph. For Guy Gillette, that time and place was the small-town Texas life of the 1950s.
Born in Minnesota in 1922, Gillette developed a keen interest in photography. During trips to Porter Place, his wife’s family’s ranch in East Texas near the small towns of Crockett and Lovelady, he began taking pictures of the Porter family and their neighbors. Midway between Dallas and Houston, the Porter ranch is where the South meets the West.
Although many people during this time took pictures, it was Gillette’s sense of composition that made his black-and-white images exceptional. As Gillette explained his craft, “Though photography is often called art, I have wanted to be artless: to be a documentarian, not an artist. Telling a story was always the attraction of photography for me.”
In this new collection of Gillette’s images, he tells the story of a vanishing America. Photographs of iconic subjects — cemetery decoration days, working cattle, church picnics, a domino game at the local garage and market day on Crockett’s Main Street on Saturdays — trigger feelings of nostalgia. This is because Gillette’s photographs are both genuine and authentic. So much so that one of the images, that of a boy and his dog at the veterinarian’s office, moved Edward Steichen, curator of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to tears.
Whether the scenes are of marketing animals, cowboys at work and play, or driving trucks with “2-50″ air conditioning (two windows down at 50 mph) — the images of Gillette are poetic and stunning. In Gillette’s world, family, labor and the land are inseparable, and perhaps that is why they connect in such a personal way.