Big Bend Through My Lens

The Texas Story Project.

I'm a photographer living in Big Bend for the last 28 years, and for the rest of my life, I assume.

I came out with two friends of mine in 1985 or '86 and we hiked the south rim. At that time, I'd never been to the park but everybody told me I'd really love it, and from the first moment I was inside the park, I connected right away and I knew that I wanted to live there. It just felt like home.

The third time I came out to Big Bend, I was with a friend and we stopped at the Gage Hotel because he knew the cook there. I learned that they were looking for another cook because one was leaving. We went to the park and had a really wonderful time. That was the first time I really met the people there and I just loved them. They're so unpretentious. Everybody's equal and that's a real uncommon thing. A lot of very well-educated people. They're not drop-outs. They've chosen that land because it speaks to them. Some people get it and some people don't. That's just the way it is. When we came back from the park, I was so in love with the people already that I applied for the job at the Gage Hotel. I had never cooked in my life, and they hired me anyway. So I moved there and worked for $4.25 an hour. I was 31 years old!

On my days off, I would hike and just sit and watch light all day. It's so peaceful. I think the first two years that I lived in the park I probably spent more time outside than inside. It's the first place I've ever been where I didn't see anybody for a day, several days. You can get lost in the park. And that feeling of being alone, and alone on the planet, it makes you feel mighty small. And it can make you feel mighty big.

As an artist, it felt like I'd found my niche. I think that every artist struggles for that. It was like this place is where I can produce a body of work that will hold up. The people were right for me. The landscape was unsettled. I knew in my mind what I wanted to do. No one was photographing the people who choose to live in that area and so that's where I began my focus. Because I feel like I'm a portrait photographer–always have been.

Usually, I answer that my favorite picture is my next one. But if I had one picture to hang on the wall that wasn't of my partner Marci, it would be the one of Hallie and Dadie. Hallie Stillwell was a local justice of the peace and a writer. Her husband died in 1948, and so she just did everything she could do to hold onto the ranch. She was a JP, so she would perform the weddings and I would take the pictures. She was my buddy. Her daughter Dadie created the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum in Marathon and made Hallie a household name around that part of the country. That picture was taken for the grand opening of the museum. It was just out on their property in Big Bend. Dadie was like my surrogate mom. Anything she wanted, I did it. When I think about the picture I love the most, that's the one–because of the relationships. It was a sweet moment and I really miss her a lot. Both of them, actually.

I think that I'm a little bit of a documentarian. I'm a little bit of an historian and I'm a little bit of an artist. I create my own memories, in a sense, with the photographs. A lot of times I don't see anything until I see it through the lens. I hope in the future that people looking at my body of work would see how hard I worked and how much in love I was with the place... 'cause I am really in love with it.

Editor's note: This story was transcribed from an interview with James Evans by the Bullock Museum. All images are courtesy of and copyrighted by James Evans. To read James Evans' comments about the photographs in the gallery above, click here. For more information about Evans, and to see additional Big Bend images, visit www.jameshevans.com.

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