Time, Tide, and the Gulf Coast
Traveling the Shore of the Spanish Sea
Review by Christopher Dow
Once again, Geoff Winningham, Rice University professor of visual arts, presents a sumptuous and handsome blending of history, contemporary narrative, and striking photographic images in Traveling the Shore of the Spanish Sea: The Gulf Coast of Texas & Mexico (Texas A&M University Press, 2010).
Beginning at Sabine Pass on the Texas–Louisiana border and ending at Playa Escondida in the crook of the Bay of Campeche, the book chronicles the early settlement and ongoing life of the western Gulf Coast as well as the effects of recent events, such as Hurricane Ike. “I wanted to make a visual record of the natural landscape of the coast at this point in time,” Winningham writes. “As far as I knew, no one had photographed the landscape of this coastline—from the coastal plain of Texas to the mountains of southern Veracruz—in a continuous and comprehensive way.” But as Winningham worked, he recognized that the coast’s varied history was as important as its contemporary scenery, and he decided to juxtapose the two.
The book’s many luxurious photographs include striking landscapes, detailed close-ups of natural and manmade objects, street scenes, and portraits of people that both visually delineate the individuals and give a sense of their inner lives. Three photos of Jerdy’s Barber Shop in Port Arthur, for example, depict walls completely papered with photographs, posters, and bumper stickers, as if Jerdy’s life was on display. And four photos taken in Veracruz, near the other end of the journey, show the exhibits of the homegrown El Mini-Zoologío Museo de Don Pio, which similarly reveal their creator’s interests.
Equally interesting is how the photographs characterize two very different cultures that not only coexist, but often have melded into an interesting cross-cultural mix. The text is just as illuminating, providing a rich background that gives even greater depth to the visual narrative.
And everywhere is the pervasive water of the Gulf of Mexico, defining the lives of the people who live along its shore no less than it etches the coast’s physical features.
Reprinted from Rice Magazine, #8, 2010.