I’ve lived in Brownsville for over 30 years – during that it has become my home. Living in a small border town may not seem exciting but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful or attention-worthy.
Brownsville has a rich history and its very own brand of charm; it is the second most historic city in Texas, surpassed only by San Antonio with its legendary Alamo. The last battle of the Civil War, as well as several battles with Mexico during the Texas Revolution took place in Brownsville. Ft. Brown is right on the Rio Grande River and played a major role in Texas’s fight for independence; it’s directly across from Casa Mata, Mexico, and the two fortified encampments exchanged cannon fire regularly. Brownsville’s downtown area is still home to many of old houses of the first settlers.
I’ve embarked on a new project where I aim to capture this historical charm: “Brownsville, Texas, A Nostalgic Trip through Yesteryear.” As I post the images I will include a short write-up about each one.
The first location of historical importance I’ve chosen to photograph is the Neale House, Brownsville’s oldest frame house. It was built before 1869 by an Englishman, William Neale. Mr. Neale operated the Matamoros to Boca Del Rio Stage Line and served as mayor of Brownsville twice: from 1858 to 1859 and then again between 1866 and 1869.
The house was donated to the Brownsville Art League (now the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art) in the 1950’s by one of Neale’s direct descendants, Mamie del Valle. It was moved from its original location, 625 E. 14th St, to its current one at 230 Neale Rd. and eventually ownership was transferred to the city.
Once a beautiful structure, the Neale House has fallen into disrepair. The city doesn’t have enough funds to fully restore it and has limited itself to cutting the grass in front of the structure and trying to keep the termites out.
Notes on the photography:
This was not an easy structure to photograph. The light here on the border is rarely flattering to architectural structures, but If I am going to do this project I know I had better get used to it!
After scouting the building a couple of times, I picked the time of day that I thought would give me the best chance of making a good photograph — late afternoon. I photographed from 6 to 7:30 pm Central Time and because of the way the building is situated the sun was setting directly behind it. This made for extremely high contrast; the front of the building was in deep shadows, and of course the sky was really burned out because of the blinding sun.
To make this image, I started out with a series of nine exposures from 4 stops under to 4 stops over so I could be sure and collect full shadow and highlight information. Now to the computer!
I used several very sophisticated techniques to blend the information I needed for the sky into the information I needed for the shadows. This should not be confused with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography which uses software to do this blending. I’ve found that using that technique creates a very phony looking image and I wanted an image that looked like it came directly from the camera. Of course, in reality that wasn’t possible because the exposure range was way too great to capture in one exposure. I also changed the color of the light to yield a more pleasing late afternoon look.
After all was said and done I feel I got a really good image. Rarely, if ever, can one just point a camera at a subject and get a good image. It takes a personal vision coupled with a high degree of behind-the-scenes proficiency to create anything of value.
If you have a project that you need to promote and would like some outstanding images, please get in touch. Feel free to leave a comment, too.