Signs along the way

The Llano Estacado Project
Fresh Water for Sale Sign, Lea County, New Mexico, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook

Driving the roads of the Llano Estacado I have noticed a significant increase in signs offering water for sale over the years. Watering stations with easy access for oil field service trucks have sprung up along the highways and back roads. After a little research, I discovered that the increase in shale oil production has encouraged entrepreneurial landowners to offer water to paying customers. The current drought began in 2010 and has significantly affected businesses across state lines.

The Llano Estacado Project
Water Station, Lea County, New Mexico, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook
The Llano Estacado Project
Water Not For Sale, Upton County, Texas, ISD, May 2016 by Ginger Sisco Cook

With the increase of frack drillers and massive agricultural use, water is in short supply in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. Ranchers and farmers must feed their families, and selling water is one way to save their land and way of life. In seven years, water rates in this area have risen from 25 cents for a 42-gallon barrel to $1 a barrel.

The Llano Estacado Project
Water, Wind, Cotton, Horses & Hay, Dawson County, Texas, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook
The Llano Estacado Project
Fresh Water for Sale, Gaines County, Texas, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook

“Fracking a well requires roughly 4 to 6 million gallons of water, which gets mixed with chemicals and sand to break up the rock and retrieve the oil or gas. In the Midland-Odessa region, where reservoirs sit 95 percent empty and cities and towns have been under severe water rationing for years, drillers are scrambling to find new sources of water.” (https://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2013/03/28/drilling-boom-spurs-a-rush-to-harness-brackish-water/).

The Llano Estacado Project

The Llano Estacado Project
Water Pit, Martin County, Texas, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook

Fresh water is best for fracking equipment, but brackish water will do in a pinch. (Brackish water is saltier than fresh water but not as concentrated as seawater.) A briny sea of water sits under the high plains. Without desalination, the water cannot be consumed. Landowners probably conclude that if they can’t drink it, they might as well sell it. Previously a bane to ranchers and farmers, it now represents a considerable source of revenue.

The Llano Estacado Project
Heavy Brine Water for Sale, Howard County, Texas, May 2016 by Ginger Sisco Cook
The Llano Estacado Project
Fresh Water for Sale, Lea County, New Mexico, July 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook

Competition between the small towns, whose water reserves are nearing the bottom of the barrel due to the extended drought, and oil companies, seeking water for their hydraulic fracturing, will likely heat up soon. I am not sure how this competition for water will play out. There is big money on the line for the oil companies, the large scale farmers, ranchers and the communities who rely on water for viability.

The Llano Estacado Project
Tatum New Mexico, 2017 by Ginger Sisco Cook
Swimming Pool Denver City Yoakum County Texas June 2015 by Ginger Sisco Cook
Denver City, Yoakum County, Texas Public Swimming Pool, June 2015 by Ginger Sisco Cook

It is a truly a sign of supply and demand playing out before our very eyes.

Llano Estacado Project
Stiles, Reagan County, Texas, May 2016 by Ginger Sisco Cook

I’ll keep you posted on the signs I see by the side of the road.

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Times have changed.

The Llano Estacado ProjectTimes have changed from when I grew up in West Texas in the 1950s and 60s. My grandfather owned a cotton farm in Plains, Texas during that time period. He hired laborers to hoe cotton in the summer, move irrigation pipe and then pick it in the fall. One of my fondest memories is playing with the children and being invited to share meals with them. They lived in quarters at the edge of the farm. Groups arrived in mid summer and left in the fall. It never occurred to me to ask where they came from or where they went.

This image was taken in Gaines County Texas off FM 1788 and CR 115. Only one woman spoke enough English for me to communicate my purpose. They all spoke very kindly to me in their broken German/Spanish agreeing that it was OK for me to photograph them while they worked. My book was signed and contact information provided.
The group worked fast. They fanned out to hoe the weeds in the vast field barely looking back at me and my camera. As I watched, I thought about the fact that this hard-working immigrant Mennonite band were serious and competent in their job. I could barely tolerate the heat. They were apparently doing a job that few Americans were willing to do in the hot Texas July sun.

I promised to send them a copy of the image.

Cedar Lake near Seagraves and Loop

 

GainesCountyTX1920sMap with Cedar Lake

Researching the area where I grew up in order to photograph it has been an education in geography and regional history. One of my favorite lessons has been about Cedar Lake in Gaines County, Texas.

The Llano Estacado Project
Gaines County Cedar Lake Panoramic View by Ginger Sisco Cook, July 2017

It is the largest alkali (salt) lake on the Plains; an old Commanche Indian camp and burial site and gathering place of buffalo hunters and soldiers. Many believe it to be the birth place of Chief Quanah Parker. The current occupants evidenced by the pump jacks and capped wells are oil and gas producers Occidental Permian, Altura Energy, Ltd., and Amoco Production Company. There is a salt plant nearby.

The Llano Estacado
Gaines County, Cedar Lake, Oil and Gas Production by Ginger Sisco Cook, July 2017

I wouldn’t have ever found the site if I hadn’t mentioned to Beverly and Bobby McGlasson during my visit last year that I wanted to explore this lake area in Gaines County. They both knew right where to send me. Bobby drew a map. I found it but my little Honda Fit’s belly was too close to the ground to venture very far off the pavement. On my first trip I could hear the call of the sandhill cranes and see them circling the fields as I neared the lake. This year Bobby and Beverly drove me in their truck before sun rise to try to capture the beauty of this portion of the Llano. It was a wonderful morning with friends exploring the landscape.

The Llano Estacado Project
Gaines County, Cedar Lake at Sunrise by Ginger Sisco Cook, July 2017

I was born in Gaines County. I felt the connection as Bobby and Beverly took me up and down the roads to explore and take my shots. I want to go back again and  spend more time. I want to hear the call of the cranes.

The Llano Estacado Project
Gaines County Cedar Lake Shoreline by Ginger Sisco Cook, July 2017

 

The Covington Farm

The Llano Estacado Project
Yoakum County Covington Farm 2 off RR 1620 and CR 330

As you know, I’ve been traveling to West Texas and Eastern New Mexico the past few years photographing my memories of growing up on the plains. My high school friend from Denver City, Texas, Margaret Kidd Robertson contacted me and asked if I had ever photographed the old adobe house near Alred in Yoakum County. One of her memories of growing up was the school bus ride going to and from school and passing by an old adobe house. The first time I looked for the place on a previous visit going by her directions I couldn’t find it. I’d never seen it or heard about it. This bit of history is not in my memory bank.

The Llano Estacado Project
Old Adobe House near Alred

Before I left on this trip, Margaret Google Mapped the images to me so I could find exactly where the old homestead could be located. Turns out it is called The Covington Farm. I also think there is a Covington Lease that people talk about. I’d like to learn more of the history. As Beverly Pharr McGlassen and her kind husband Bobby and I drove to Plains for dinner, we made plans to stop first and find the spot and take some photographs. They had never heard of the place either but we were all three intriqued as we drove up to the compound of home, water tower and corral. It is in serious decay and someone has dumped an old appliance in front of the site. However, you can tell that at one point in time people lived and loved this home place.

The Llano Estacado Project
Yoakum County Covington Farm 2 off RR 1620 and CR 330

I’d like to go back again when I have more time and the right clothing to photograph the site properly. Thank you Margaret for letting me know this site exists and pointing me in the right direction.

The Llano Estacado Project
Yoakum County Covington Farm 2 off RR 1620 and CR 330
The Llano Estacado Project
Yoakum County Covington Farm 2 off RR 1620 and CR 330

25 Mothers

Illuminating the Bad Mother by Ginger Sisco Cook for the web

I am starting a new adventure in art this summer playing with something familiar and something totally out of my comfort zone. A student from my Art Appreciation class this spring provided the inspiration. As she was talking about Andy Warhol’s 25 Colored Marilyns on exhibit at the Fort Worth Modern Museum of Art for her final presentation I had a vision for creating a piece as a continuation of my Illuminating the Bad Mother in Contemporary American Art project. What if I incorporated 25 Mother images using cyanotype on watercolor canvases? I teach workshops about the cyanotype photographic process. I know nothing about watercolors and I am not a multi media artist. But I am coating 25 canvases and exposing them in the summer sunlight with the intention of water coloring, layering and sewing objects onto them with red terry cloth thread!

Photography is my main squeeze and at the moment, landscape photography of where I grew up on the high plains of West Texas is where all my free time, saved money and precious energy is spent. However, this summer I am allowing myself to venture into something different. This is a whole new gig!

Below is my first attempt. This is a 12×2 watercolor canvas used to create a cyanotype portrait from a digital negative. Reminiscent of hand colored portraits from the 50s, I hand painted the image using water colors specifically created for photographs from the mid-20th century. A lacy plastic tablecloth is layered over the canvas. Three wire bristle hair rollers are hand sewn onto the piece with red terry cloth thread. This is the same thread used to weave cheap dish washing cloths and towels. Red is my scary color. My thought process is that mothers in the 50s were expected to provide 3 square meals a day, wash the dishes after each meal, take care of the children and look beautiful when her husband returned home. Many women in this time period had standing appointments with their hairdresser and seldom missed their weekly visit to the beauty shop.

My parents lived during the great depression and shared memories of those who road the rails or walked from town to town to survive before all the men left to serve in WWII. When I was a child there was talk around the kitchen table about those drifters and near do wells who would leave markings or signs on the back fence posts in the alley ways behind homes where they sought food, lodging or a day’s work. The hobo signs were made with charred sticks from a camp fire or white chalk from a near by rock or whatever was near at hand. The signs were simple, direct and were intended to help those who were coming down the road after them. The signs told others there was food for work, a good chance to get money, if there was good water to drink. There were also signs warning them to be afraid, that a beating awaits you here if you approach the house, a poor man lives here, there is a bad tempered woman, etc.

Here is my first sign. Three lines in a diagonal meant an unsafe area according to the stranger at the back gate.

 

West Texas Burned

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Olchitree County, TX 281, WT Fire, March 2017

I didn’t know what to expect when David and I drove to the Panhandle of Texas for Spring Break. The week before we left wildfires had been raging from West Texas as far North as Nebraska. Over 750 square miles had burned in Texas alone. From the news reports in Paris it sounded as if the entire panhandle had been on fire.

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Hemphill County, Hwy 2266, WT Fire, Mar 2017

We stopped in Wheeler, TX so David could get some pictures of the downtown area. I sat in the car watching semi-trailer after semi heading North, bringing hay to cattle ranchers who lost their fields in the blaze. Looking back I wish I had taken a video to show what it looks like when humans stick together but I was too swept up in the moment just watching.

We began to see the burn lines as we crossed the Canadian River in Hemphill County. It is not until you are in the Panhandle that you can comprehend the enormity of the level land as it extends from the highway’s edge to the end of the horizon. The flat terrain that gives West Texas it’s unique windswept personality allowed us to see only parts and partial of the destruction. We did not go into the ranches to see the totality of the burn beyond the edge of the highway.

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Olchitree County, Hwy 281, WT Fire, Mar 2017

The day was cold with winds gusting to 45 miles per hour. We were a week late and the wind had already swept clear most of the debris and ashes. What remained was scorched earth and evidence of fire fighter’s efforts.

 

 

In Roberts County we found utility crews replacing poles damaged by the fire. You could see where the fire melted the coated wires strung across the plains.

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Roberts County, Hwy 283, WT Fire, Mar 2017

The Llano Estacado Project

On the second day we drove to Carson and Potter Counties where reports indicated some of the worst of the fire took its toll. It was another cold, windy day. I attempted to use my tripod to take pictures but the relentless Panhandle wind kept trying to send my camera rolling across the plains like a tumbleweed. We saw where farm irrigation equipment had been strategically placed along the rural roads to protect fields from destruction.

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Carson County, WT Fire, Mar 2017
The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Potter County, WT Fire, Mar 2017

In case you are unfamiliar with what West Texas looks like after winter and before spring, below is an example of the High Plains where it was not burned. This is what you see mile after mile across the windy plains on a normal day in March.

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Bailey County, CR off Hwy 54, March 2017
The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Deaf Smith County, Hwy 214, March 2017

As we drove up and down the roads we saw many signs warning about the danger of fires and fire ban warnings. My favorite was the one in Boot Leg Corner. I’d love to hear the story of how this little community got its name!

The Llano Estacado Project by Cook
Deaf Smith County, Boot Leg Corner, Mar 2017

For the rest of our journey we spent time in Stinnett, Dumas, Hartley, the Boot Hill Cemetery at Tascosa, Muleshoe, Littlefield, Hale Center, South Plains, and ended up in Caprock Canyon near Quitique. I always enjoy heading west but I enjoy even more getting home to my own bed at the end of a wonderful trip.

A Woman’s Eye in Photographing Landscapes

In her 1975 introduction to The Woman’s Eye, Anne Wilkes Tucker, museum curator of photographic works and editor, questioned whether or not certain sensibilities are uniquely feminine. She asked if the feminine could be deciphered in a particular individual’s art.[i] Early landscape photographer Lara Gilpin saw no difference between men and women. She insisted that quality had nothing to do with gender—“either you are a good photographer or you’re not.”[ii] Interestingly, Laura Gilpin was not nationally recognized until the 1970s. She began photographing in the early 1900s. “In the 1920s she couldn’t give her landscapes away.”[iii] I am not sure if it is provable, but—at the very least—a difference exists in how women’s landscape photographs are exhibited and purchased. In 2016 very few female landscape photographers support themselves solely through the sale of their work.

Tractored Out by Dorthea Lang Childress County Texas 1938
Dorthea Lang, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas, 1938

Photography and the art world have changed since Tucker’s book in 1975, but the status of women artists in American society has only slightly improved over the last forty-one years. This is especially true in the field of landscape photography. The American West was and still is defined by the eyes of males. Since the beginning of photography we have mostly been shown the American West through the lens of a male photographer. Ansel Adams’ landscape posters and calendars of the dramatic scenery of Yosemite National Park hang in our kitchens and offices. American West photos are expected to express the expansiveness of the land, the intense scenic beauty and to eliminate all traces of human activity. To some degree this is what Americans have been taught to expect, and it is what they seem to purchase.

ansle adams grand teton mountains snake river
Ansel Adams, Tetons and Snake River, 1942.

Should the American society be educated to think about seeing landscapes through the eyes of a female’s élan? Several female landscape photographers have been recognized and collected. The problem is that few people in America know about the women who could stand toe to toe with Adams: Anne Brigman, Linda Connor, Barbara Crane, Judy Dater, Mary Beth Edelson, Marion Faller, Linda Gammell, Lynn Geesaman, Laura Gilpin, Betty Hahn, Cynthia MacAdams, Liliane De Cock Morgan, Joan Myers, Marion Patterson, Kathryn Paul, Mary Peck, Meridel Rubenstein, Geraldine Sharpe, Clara E. Sipprell, Gail Skoff, Evon Streetman, Vida, Alisa Wells and Marion Post Wolcott to name only some. Their work is striking and compelling but, for the most part, unknown to the general public.

Alisa Wells Smoky Mountains 1967
Alisa Wells, Smokey Mountains, North Carolina, 1967

Gretchen Garner wrote in her introductory essay on the catalog, Reclaiming Paradise: American Women Photograph the Land: “It often seems that landscape photographs are windows on the world, clear views that any of us might have seen had we stood in the photographer’s shoes. As we read these photographs more deeply, though, asking more of them, we realize that, if we are looking through a window, then we are looking first through a powerful screen of interpretation. This screen is woven of many threads, a complex warp and weft that directs our vision. The warp is made of ideas about the land and about landscape pictures—ideas received from the culture, new ideas of the photographer. The weft, on the other hand, is the individual sensibility, the will to form, the imaginative response of the picture-maker. The work of art is the unity woven of imagination, idea and the world itself.”[iv] The question remains, does a woman view the land differently than a man? Are a woman’s ideas about the land and about how it should be photographed different from those of a male photographer? Does a woman’s individual sensibility form a different response to what she sees as the picture-maker?

Laura Gilpin Storm from La Bajada Hill New Mexico 1946
Laura Gilpin, Storm from La Bajada Hill, New Mexico, 1946.
The Llano Estacado Project
Ginger Sisco Cook, Martin County, Texas, FM 137, 2016 from The Llano Estacado Project

[i] Anne Tucker, The Woman’s Eye (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1975)

[ii] Naomi Rosenblum, A History of Women Photographers (New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2010), p. 175.

[iii] Kathleen Sutton, “Making Their Mark: One Hundred Years of Women Artists in Colorado,” Southwest Art Magazine, January 1, 1970. http://www.southwestart.com/articles-interviews/feature-articles/making_their_mark#sthash.dU9GnGKu.dpuf

[iv] Gretchen Garner, Reclaiming Paradise: American Women Photograph the Land (Duluth, Minn.: University of Minnesota—Duluth, Tweed Museum of Art, 1987).