Texas Mountains| Interview
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Photographer Laurence Parent and senior editor Joe Nick
Patoski talk about climbing, the best shot, and their new book, Texas
Mountains. Interview with Laurence Parent and Joe Nick Patoski
texasmonthly.com: When was the first time you saw a mountain? Do
you remember where you were and what you thought?
Laurence Parent: I was born in the mountains of New Mexico, so I guess
that I saw them when I was pretty young. They must have made an impression,
although I sure don't remember my first thoughts.
Joe Nick Patoski: The mountains I remember seeing were in the Big Bend.
We'd driven in my daddy's new 59 Studebaker Silver Hawk from Fort
Worth to San Antonio one day, then from San Antonio to Ciudad Acuña
and on to Marathon the next, arriving at night. The following morning
we got up and drove to Big Bend National Park and up to the Chisos Basin.
I thought it was pretty cool.
texasmonthly.com: Laurence, your father was a National Park Service
ranger and your mother wrote travel pieces. Do you think you may have
a different perspective on the outdoors because of their influence?
LP: My parents had a huge influence on me. Growing up in beautiful National
Park Service sites with parents who loved the outdoors greatly shaped
what I do for a living (outdoor photography) and what I love to do for
fun (hike, run, camp, and climb).
texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to publish a book on the Texas
LP: No one had ever done such a book. Some Texans don't even realize Texas
has mountains. Many others don't realize that there are beautiful mountains
in Texas besides the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains. I wanted
to surprise people. The Texas mountains have waterfalls, movie sets, pine
forests, aspens, and many other surprises.
texasmonthly.com: How long did it take to come up with the material
for your book and put it all together?
JNP: A little more than a couple years. I'd really been working on it
for more than forty years, but just didn't realize.
LP: Some of the photos go back to the mid-nineties (they were shot for
other projects). Most, however, were shot specifically for this book beginning
around mid-1999. The West Texas drought didn't help. The schedule accelerated
last fall, though, when rains finally came to West Texas. The grass greened,
the air cleared, and the waterfalls flowed. I made two trips in October
and November to wrap up the book that lasted 26 and 17 days each. After
that, I was ready to be done.
texasmonthly.com: Joe Nick, what was involved in getting your information?
Did you go on many climbs?
JNP: Lots of time was spent in libraries, online, and on the phone.
But the best part of doing it was getting to go on-site. A lot of the
ranges are on private land, so our research involved introducing ourselves
to folks, asking permission for access, and in many cases, assuring sources
that we wouldn't identify precisely where we were lest trespassers and
poachers try to go where they're not welcome.
I should mention that the photography required getting to vantage points
on peaks and pinnacles that were not necessarily the highest points in
a particular range. Nonetheless, we climbed a bunch. There's one photo
Laurence took of me standing on a smaller pinnacle in the Chinatis that
ran in Texas Highways (Laurence needed a model and I was the
only other human around). The picture is pretty great, capturing me standing
on this high point overlooking the rugged, desolate valley of the Rio
Grande, with no other human being or any man-made structure in sight.
What you don't see is how I propped myself up on the rock, trying to maintain
my balance, and how I was seized by a severe case of acrophobia while
trying to stand still and remain calm. The wind was gusting, and I kept
trying not to look down, because one false move and I was a goner. Standing
across the way, on an equally perilous promontory, was Laurence, snapping
away, changing cameras, loading film, trying to get the shot. It's one
thing to ramble around high points and scurry up to the top; it's another
thing to do that while carrying sixty pounds of equipment on your back.
Laurence, I think, has a little mountain goat blood in him.
texasmonthly.com: Laurence, what type of format do you use? Why?
LP: I mostly use a large-format camera, 4x5, for my landscape work. Only
a tiny handful of the photos in this book were done with a 35mm camera.
A 4x5 reproduces larger, with greater sharpness, less grain, and potentially
greater depth of field. I do use a 35mm for shooting outdoor sports, but
there wasn't any of that in this book.
texasmonthly.com: Do you find the mountains in Texas that different
from the mountains in Colorado? Why or why not?
LP: The mountains in Texas are significantly lower and drier that those
in Colorado. However, many of the Texas mountains have considerable relief
(above the surrounding plains) and are still very impressive.
JNP: Much different. As a University of Texas at Austin professor from
Germany told me recently: "We in Germany know about the Rockies, the Cascades,
the Sierra Nevadas, the Appalachians. We have mountains like that. But
there's nothing in Germany like the Texas mountains. That's why we love
to come here." It's the delicate combination of mountains and desert.
Nowhere but Texas.
texasmonthly.com: What is necessary to get such spectacular shots?
Can you describe a shoot for me?
LP: First and foremost, you have to be a pack mule. My camera pack
usually weighs between 35 and 40 pounds just for day hikes. A lot of strenuous
hiking was required for this book to reach the photo locations that I
wanted. Quite a few hikes were cross-country in areas with no trails.
Several shots were taken on overnight trips, and my pack weighed 60 pounds
or so. Besides dragging my gear to ideal locations, I have to anticipate
the light and weather to try to get the best possible images. Many times
the weather does not cooperate, requiring me to repeat a trip, often several
texasmonthly.com: When is the best time of day to take nature shots?
LP: Most commonly, the light right before, during, and after sunset works
best because contrast decreases, long shadows give depth, and the light
turns gold and pink. However, weather is at least as big a factor. Dramatic
skies, especially from breaking storms, add immeasurably to photos.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite photo in the book? Why?
JNP: I don't really have a favorite. I loveem all. But when I first
thumbed through the book, the shots of ZH Canyon really stirred me. Sunrise
on a perfect June morning, seeing and hearing and witnessing all the life
in this "isolated" spotthe canyon was a veritable aviary, choked
with raptors and Neotropical songbirds. It was one of the more blessed
moments in my life. The photos brought it all back.
LP: Tough question. I'm not sure that I have a particular favorite. I
do like the cover, in part, I guess, because it was taken during a miserable
windy sunrise in a spring dust storm, which is why the light is so rednot
because of a filter. Another favorite is probably the aspens shot because
it was such a bear to hike to them, plus it reminds me of the New Mexico
mountains, where I did a lot of my growing up.
texasmonthly.com: What was your most difficult shoot? Why?
LP: Several are contenders. The aspens shot was difficult because it required
carrying my heavy gear cross-country up and down very steep, loose, and
treacherous slopes. I twisted my knee when a slope shifted under me; it
still hasn't completely recovered. The shot of El Capitan taken from the
summit of Guadalupe Peak required carrying my pack four and a half miles
up a trail while gaining three thousand feet of elevation in a howling,
frigid dust storm in January. After taking my sunset shots and getting
almost hypothermic, I hiked all the way down in the dark.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite mountain range in Texas?
JNP: My favorite ranges are the Franklin, Hueco, Guadalupe, Sierra Diablo,
Sierra Vieja, Davis, Chinati, Chisos, Bofecillo, and Glass ranges. Each
has qualities separate from the others. Laurence has convinced me that
there is much more to the Quitmans than initially meets the eye. The Eagles,
which parallel Interstate 10 to the south for twenty miles or so, west
of Van Horn, are the most underappreciated. The view from Eagle peak was
one of the most breathtaking of them all.
LP: I'm not sure that I have a single favorite. They're all really different.
Some favorites are the Sierra Vieja, Davis, Guadalupe, Chisos, Beach,
Quitman, and Sierra Diablo mountains.
texasmonthly.com: If you could climb any mountain in Texas, which
would it be? Why?
JNP: North Franklin Mountain. Because I haven't done it yet.