Guy Reynolds is one of those got-here-quick-as-I-could Texans, arriving at age three. His mother ran a book store in Richardson, and he has lived in the area most of his life. He’s what we call a good guy (sorry): He delivers Meals on Wheels, he cares about his friends, he loves his family. Besides photo-editing at the Dallas Morning News, he takes his own shots, over a million by some reckonings.
Reynolds recently posted the following quotation from André Kertész: “We became less and less inclined to talk about the photographs as we became more and more convinced that the best photographs talk for themselves, speaking in a language of their own, and that the less there is to say about a picture by way of explanation, after looking at it, the better it is as a picture.” So of course I’m not really going to talk about his photography as much as encourage to look at it. Before anything else, please go to his website guydaho.com. You’ll be glad. And the rest of what I say will make sense.
Let’s use the journalist’s questions—who, what, when, where, why, and how—to explore his work.
Guy Reynolds earns a living in photography, a rarity these days, night editing since 1996. After journalism school at UT (Austin), he worked in Winston-Salem, Baton Rouge, and Indianapolis. His reputation for the quirky extends to his being the last photographer at the DMN to use its darkroom. Reynolds denies any particular inspiration for his professional choice; when he needed to decide on a major, photojournalism did not require a language. His time in Louisiana gave him the experience to know that Hurricane Katrina was going to be a big deal, so he sent additional photographers to cover the devastation there and in Mississippi. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2006 because of his acumen. He won’t brag it up and explains it better, but I can give him some credit.
He names his influences easily and adds: “But in my career as a documentary photographer I’d say Elliott Erwitt has certainly been my all-time favorite. The greatest teachers aren’t only those who’ve gone before but also those who one works with. It’s been my good fortune to work with many very talented shooters and editors at past jobs and currently. I learned from osmosis and continue to.”
In a time when digital is the standard, Reynolds’ camera of choice is a Holga, the cheap camera from Hong Kong with a plastic lens and decidedly iconic results. It uses a 120 format film which is square and five times the size of a 35 mm negative, so enlargement quality is better. Stylistic elements include ease of use (settings for either sunny or cloudy), automatic edge shading (vignetting), distortions, and light leaks.
He’s had shows in a variety of venues (galleries, restaurants, hair salons). Most recently, his work appeared at the Tammy Cromer Gallery with the title “Not Dead Yet! (and neither is film).” This odd description refers both to his own battle with Stage 4 esophageal and liver cancer and the medium of film. The three collections in the Tammy Cromer show were shot in Texas, two along roadsides and one in Dallas. The titles reflect those origins: “White Trash,” “Speechless,” and “Almost Texas.” The first two were shot in 2018, with “Almost Texas” begun in 2003. The sharing is important: “I’ve had a show in a hair salon,” he says with a smile. “I’ve had a show at two restaurants. So I’m not proud, I’ll show photos anywhere. That’s what it’s about being a photographer. You don’t take photos just to look at [them] yourself. You know, you want to share them.”
“Almost Texas” contains an array of hand-painted shapes that catch a vision of our great state’s shape, but not quite. Some are sad, others happy, some sloppy, others meticulous, but all were found at car inspection facilities with limited advertising budgets. Once in East Dallas, Reynolds noticed a nervous owner watching him take photos. A brief but not particularly efficacious conversation followed. When Reynolds returned, he noticed that the Texas sign had been redone in careful, perfect lines.
“Why” is the most interesting question. Reynolds addresses this issue with this wonderful dichotomy: “I could cook up some kind of artist’s statement about using the delicate interplay between light and shadow as a leitmotiv to investigate the weight of the quotidian… but it pretty much boils down to this: I take pictures of things that interest me to see what they look like as photographs.”
Raymond Carver (not the short story master but the Angelo State University professor) used this definition: “Art is an activity or productivity wherein an artist—using critical means—shares with percipients what it means to be human.” How can a bag on a fence, an empty sign in the middle of nowhere, a ragged approximation of Texas reflect humanity? We all know, of course, even though we may never take the time to write the words that would explain. Beauty—and not just the Texas kind—is also to be had on Guy Reynold’s Flickr page. Someone has mentioned truth in connection with beauty. Perhaps nothing more needs to be said. You’ll be glad you looked.