St. Edward's University Student Photos Capture Small-Town Texas and Attention of Smithsonian
Most people probably know the town of Lockhart as the Barbecue Capital of Texas. In Spring 2011 of my junior year, I was lucky enough to take Professor Joe Vitone’s documentary photography class in the Photocommunications program at St. Edward’s, which focused on exploring everyday life in this small community through photographs and writing. Over the course of that semester, my 11 classmates and I got to know Lockhart for much more than its famous barbecue.
Attempting to document a small town in three short months really is a 12 person task! There are so many facets to explore, both in photography and through interviews and investigation.
Professor Vitone is an amazing documentary photographer; he was both an inspirational leader and our toughest critic. While we each focused on different perspectives of Lockhart, bi-monthly class critiques allowed us to help each other make better photographs as part of the larger project.
I chose to focus on Lockhart locals, interior spaces in the historic downtown district and the Gaslight-Baker Theatre. Texas theaters hold an important place in history, and the Gaslight Baker has seen Lockhart through the days of vaudeville, silent films, talkies and now live theater. I documented a production at the theater, from rehearsals to performance. I was allowed access to photograph every nook and cranny of the historic building, from 1934 backstage graffiti to the 2011 stage renovations.
Throughout the project, Professor Vitone stressed the importance of captioning our photos to share the story and history behind our images with the viewer. However, caption writing was also the most challenging part of the project. While I love talking to people and hearing their stories, getting the courage to spark a conversation is tough! Sometimes I got great responses: I spent several Saturdays at the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches talking with Dan Sweet, a friendly tour guide who was a fun and engaging conversationalist. On another occasion, I walked into the Sunshine Café during a quiet weekday lunch. I quickly snapped some photos (including one of my favorite portraits!) and left the locals in peace.
My classmates documented everything from Southern Black churches to rural ranching life to a neon sign shop to hat makers. After all of our time and hard work on the project, I’m excited to say that our photographs were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of History, Archives Center in Washington, D.C.
I now encourage friends to visit Lockhart and check out Smitty’s Market for great barbecue, Reyna’s for the best breakfast tacos, the historic Eugene Clark Library for a beautiful example of Classical Revival architecture, and the Gaslight-Baker Theatre for the prettiest hand-painted stage curtain you’ll ever see.
I’m very proud to have been part of the project and to have our work in the Smithsonian. And I’m honored to have spent time documenting such a great town.
--Margo Sivin ’12, Graphic Design major, Photocommunications minor