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Twenty Years of Traipsing Texas Trails

Texas Highways photography editor Mike Murphy has traveled more than a few of the state’s highways and byways. Lucky for us, he took a lot of pictures along the way.
Written by Michael A. Murphy. Photographs by Michael A. Murphy.

The Sierra del Carmen mountains loom large behind Boquillas del Carmen (Mexico), photographed with a long lens from the scenic overlook at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park.

Photographs and the act of creating them have always fascinated and, simultaneously, mystified me. The finished image has to captivate first, to induce a viewer to give it more than a glimpse; but equally important, the image should deliver content of some sort. These two things must happen for a photograph to succeed, whether the image is categorized as art, documentary, or photojournalism.

Even experienced photographers find it difficult to predict whether a truly great image will result from the act of clicking the shutter. Professionals tilt the odds in their favor with careful planning and preparation, but they know there’s no guarantee. For me, this uncertainty forms the mystery of photography, the waiting and hoping for serendipity to strike.

Several photographer friends and I went to Louie Mueller's in Taylor for a barbecue lunch. We were headed in while these ladies headed out. I had to shoot from the hip, quickly, to get this one frame.

My interest in photography began while attending high school in Dripping Springs, a small Hill Country town about 20 miles west of Austin. In those days, the outlets for my images consisted of the student paper and the high school yearbook. The thrill of making a decent photograph became amplified by seeing it in print.

With my interest sparked in earnest, I studied photography in the fine arts department at Ohio University for a year and a half, then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin in 1973 once its photojournalism sequence gained accreditation.

The Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau staged this Texas Longhorn cattle drive through the Stockyards National Historic District in 1982.

Writing also attracted my attention, and I wound up completing coursework in the journalism school's news-reporting sequence, too. This dual interest explains, in part, my preference for using words and pictures together in hopes of bringing greater understanding of an image to a viewer. After graduating in 1976, I went on to graduate school at UT, and eventually earned a Master of Arts in Journalism. Those years of study, and work, allowed me to hone the craft of making photographs, and also gave me the opportunity to view the work of many acclaimed photographers.

My photographic heroes are numerous. Among them: Edward Weston, whom I admire for his ability to see and capture sensual beauty in objects as diverse as a bell pepper and a porcelain commode. W. Eugene Smith, for his commitment to photography as a means of effecting change in man's behavior. Russell Lee, for his quiet, steady, artistic documentary images of Texas and the Southwest. Garry Winogrand, for his quick, reflexive, captivating street photography.

Studying the work of these and many other photographers helped me appreciate the difficulties of making strong, appealing photographs. Practice, of course, can help immensely.

Although I grew up in Houston, our family moved to a Central Texas ranch near Dripping Springs when I was a teenager. Our family and friends have enjoyed many pleasurable hours at the ranch's swimming hole, fed by Little Bee Creek.

Finished with my graduate studies, I landed a photographic internship at The Dallas Morning News. This experience, in turn, helped propel me into a staff photography position at the Houston Chronicle. The demanding work of shooting news photographs every day in both these jobs prepared me for an even better blessing, when in 1979, the Texas Tourist Development Agency chose me to be its first full-time photographer.

The job description for this position read like a photographer's dream: to travel all over Texas, creating an extensive file of color and black-and-white photographs that would be used to promote Texas tourism. Over the next four years, I logged more than 120,000 miles exploring and photographing every nook and cranny of the state.

That job allowed me to combine my love of photography with my love of Texas, two passions that still burn brightly today.

After six years as photography editor for Texas Highways, my travels have become more vicarious, through the images of other photographers. Assembling this portfolio has reminded me that I need to indulge my passion for shooting pictures more frequently! In the meantime, please traipse along with me as I revisit a few of my favorite images, and some fond Texas memories.

In 1981, while helping introduce out-of-state journalists to Texas at Arkey Blue's Silver Dollar Saloon in Bandera, this cowboy and his lady friend asked me to take their picture. I was happy to oblige.


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