AUSTIN, TexasWhile growing up, the small Texas Hill Country town of Bandera was a source of inspiration and motivation for Jennifer Small. Now, The University of Texas at Austin student has a chance to give something back.
Small is the first student chosen to participate in a new residency program that allows fine arts students to take their creative work back into their Texas communities. The project was initiated to help develop new audiences for the arts in outlying areas of the state. A graduate student in the College of Fine Arts design division, Small’s exhibit of photography is on display at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera through the end of November.
Small has made many new friends in Bandera as a result of her photography project that features the town’s youth. Most of the pictures in the exhibition were taken between the fall of 1999 and the summer of 2000.
“In most of the photographs, kids are just hanging out, being raucous or just acting like typical teen-agers,” said Small, whose grandparents ran a Bandera store that specialized in western wear for nearly 60 years. “I believe that by choosing the subject matter that I did for these pictures, I offered myself an entire library of situations and moments to observe and photograph.
“I wanted to document what I saw happening when I would hang out with my subjects. It’s the classic role of photographer as auteur. In addition, I was interested in how these kids made life for themselves more interesting.”
Small said she has been inspired by the work of photographer Bruce Davidson. “He has made, and continues to make, pictures that capture humanity at its most vulnerable, without seeming manipulative or directive,” she said. “His work continues to inspire me and completely inspired the work in this project.”
Small will be getting a master’s degree in studio art, and then hopes to continue her work as a free-lance photographer and to teach in a high school art program. She also wants to begin work on a lifelong goal of a school for inner-city high school students to take photography, writing and music.
The title of the photography exhibit, “At Night/In Town,” is an apt description of the time and place of the pictures, Small said. “Often, when I was visiting my grandmother on a trip to take photographs for this project, I would simply claim that I was ‘going into town’ and would be back later. Bandera seems to have less of a luster and more of a human side to it in the evening.”
Bandera is interesting to scores of outsiders and tourists because of its claim as the “Cowboy Capital of Texas,” said Small, who has had several photographs published in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, including one which is in the exhibit. Small received her undergraduate degree in photography from the Parsons School in New York City.
“The community has an entirely different social system than anywhere else I’ve lived or even visited,” she said. “Bandera is a small town where word travels fastest by mouth. A lot of people knew who I was before they even met me.”
Small said she believes The New York Times was interested in the photographs because they illustrate how young people in a small Texas town live and show how “different it might be from the lives of others at the same age and station in life. Having lived in New York for several years, I know what it’s like to live in a place that seems like the center of the world, yet so far removed from how the rest of America lives.”
As for the Bandera youth themselves, Small hopes the photographs she took have allowed them to look upon themselves and the situations of their daily lives and realize that they’re not so dull. “I hope they know that someone was so interested in them that she made several trips and took many many pictures in an effort to get close to what was going on in their lives and in their town.”