Life Behind Gary Edwards’ Lens


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In 1985, photographer Gary Edwards’ career was catapulted into photographic history when his image of golfer Jack Nicklaus was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. A seminal moment for both the subject and the artist, this now famous image captures the unfettered joy of a champion exuded in the fierce grip and victorious grin.

Edwards career spans over five decades and has taken him around the world, but today life has slowed down a little. A resident of East Texas since 1994, Edwards’ now channels his knowledge and enthusiasm for photography into his love for all things East Texas. It may not have the cache of his former assignments, for example the three Olympics, eight Masters Golf tourneys and 14 Super Bowls, however Edwards celebrates the pastoral beauty of the area’s wildlife, landscape and sunsets with the same compelling commitment.

His enjoyment of capturing the beauty of East Texas evolved over time.

“We moved to Holly Lake Ranch in East Texas in 1994 with the idea I’d play golf until I dropped,” Edwards said. “My wife had other ideas and I went back to work for a weekly newspaper in Mineola, using the same equipment I’d used to cover the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks, but this time I was covering the Mineola Yellow Jackets high school teams and I wasn’t at all sure my ego could stand the change — boy, how wrong could I have been.

“I fell in love with high school sports, the people of the area and the wild life. Working for the weekly newspaper got me closer to everyday life in East Texas. Everybody over 40 has a story to tell and I had some success at providing that opportunity for many people over the next 16 years.”

Edwards is quite proud of East Texas and the people and places that make it special.

“East Texas offers a great quality of life, much as the Hill Country west of Austin, as well as other places,” he said. “Here one can drive 25 miles in 30 minutes, over country roads lined with trees and farms. And I learned to love that — just me, my camera and the car radio, jumping into my car with my wife Debbie and going off to cover festivals or visiting places like Lake Fork or Caddo Lake.

With changes in the craft of photography over the years from film to digital cameras, Edwards has embraced and mastered the technology.

“As I told a group of aspiring journalists recently at Texas A&M Commerce, ‘digital photography has made better photographers of us all,’” he said. “Look at it this way, years ago a well-known Life Magazine photographer toured Russia and took more than 6,000 photographs and the magazine used six. They had unlimited resources that most photographers did not have. I submit to you that if you take a good photographer and allow he or she to take that many pictures, they will have six really great pictures among them. Digital photography has done that for the average person.”

Edwards said love of what you do and the willingness to put in the time required to take better pictures than others is what makes a good photographer. He enjoys teaching photography, especially to high school and college students and in particular, nature subjects.

“In nature you have to take what nature gives you and be adaptable,” he said. “You might go out looking for eagles and find turtles, or you might find foxes. And I’m always attempting to take pictures that others either don’t take the time to take or don’t think to take.”

In regards to his image of Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters he said several photographers got the photo but the expressions and gestures he captured are what made his award winning.

“The compelling part comes from a combination of who it is, his facial expression, his body language, the venue involved and the ball being on the lip of the cup and about to fall in,” Edwards said. “They are all parts of the puzzle and without any of them, it wouldn’t be as good a picture as it was.”

His best advice to aspiring photographers is to follow your dream and be prepared to face the consequences.

“If you love photojournalism, and it is a passion, then chase your dream,” he said. “But there is a price to pay. It can consume you. You will find yourself carrying your camera whereever you go because you never know when you will come across something you need to take a picture of. Spouses don’t always go along with stopping the car so you can take a picture. If recording history and events for future generations to view is something you like, then have at it. You probably won’t get rich economically, but you will emotionally — and in the end that’s what much of life is all about.

“I’m thinking that it was my willingness to take chances that was inspired by DeSantis, my mentor. It made me a little better than what I might have been otherwise. It’s my belief that none among us become successful on our own and that it takes a mentor to accomplish and fulfill our dreams.

“In these years now upon us I’ve made myself available to speak at photo clubs or student groups and that has become as rewarding as the photography.”

In the midst of photographing many sporting events, three Olympics and 14 Super Bowls, Edwards says his most memorable moment was one Super Bowl in particular.

“I actually proposed to my wife at a Super Bowl,” he said. “It was 26 years ago in California, pre-game, and as the two teams came on the field and the crowd provided thunderous noise, I turned to my caption writer (who I was dating at the time) and said, ‘will you marry me’ and she didn’t answer. We were both recently divorced and relatively new to each other and I was just overwhelmed by her. Days later she said yes and we’ve been married since then. How can that not be the highlight of any photographic event?”

See more of Gary Edwards’ photography at www.easttexasreflections.com.

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