The Picture Show
10:14 am
Mon March 11, 2013

Documenting West Texas And Big Bend National Park

Originally published on Mon March 11, 2013 10:07 am

Big Bend National Park lies in West Texas, surrounded by mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. It's one of the least-visited national parks in the country, according to the National Parks Service.

For those simply passing through, it can be hard to capture the spirit of the place — which is why photographer James H. Evans moved there in 1988, and has never left.

"The big difference of living out here is that in the city the stars are on the ground, and here the stars are in the sky," Evans says over the phone.

After camping in the area a few times, Evans moved to Marathon, a small town of fewer than 500 people near the outskirts of the park. As much as the landscape moved him, he said he was mostly inspired by the people — ranchers, Kickapoo Native Americans, and the large Hispanic population who call West Texas home.

Evans' images capture the personalities and lifestyle of the people who live in one of the most vast and rural expanses of Texas — a group that has traditionally been underrepresented in documentary photography.

"A portrait is a personal shared moment between the subject and myself," says Evans, recalling one woman who embodied his idea of West Texan spirit. Hallie C. Stillwell, a local justice of the peace in Brewster County, lived to be 99 years old. A widow, she maintained a ranch for 40 years and performed weddings well into advanced age.

At one point, Stillwell suffered a minor stroke on the day she was supposed to perform a marriage. After being released from the hospital, she went straight to the ceremony. "[It] says so much about her character," Evans says. "Her spirit is what I am trying to maintain in my life."

Evans' first book, Big Bend Pictures, is a collection of black-and-white portraits shot on film. His latest book, Crazy from the Heat, takes a broader look at West Texas in both color and black and white. Landscape photos are scattered throughout the book, acting almost as a point of reference to remind the viewer of the vast wildness of the land.

Evans plans on staying in Big Bend for the rest of his life and continuing to document its tight-knit community. "We live as a big family, under the stars of one of the darkest skies in Texas," he says.

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