A Kodak MomentOpinion
OPINION — Some men are born to greatness. Others sometimes get to have dinner with it.
Wyman Meinzer and Earl Nottingham sat across the table from me last Friday night at the 60th Annual Texas Outdoor Writers Association conference in League City. Wyman was the keynote speaker for the conference, and is one of the two best photographers in Texas, in my opinion. The other is Earl.
Matter of fact, Wyman and Earl are likely a couple of the very best picture takers in the United States, maybe even the world. Between them they have probably forgotten more about photography than most clickers ever learn. They’re legends. And they’re a couple of the nicest guys I know.
I first met Earl right after I joined TOWA back in 1997. He reminded me of Johnny Unitas. Unitas was, without question, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I once watched an interview given by one of his teammates. The guy said Unitas was a nice guy and a great football player, but if you met him on the street you’d think he was a truck driver. Earl is just a regular guy who happens to be a genius at photography.
That’s not exactly true. Earl didn’t just happen to become a great photographer. He worked at it. He’s been a shutter clicker for TPW for many years, and is one of the hardest working people I know. And he’s one of the most willing to share what he’s learned with others. Earl never met a stranger, and as far as I know he’s never failed to answer a question about photography, from anyone.
About ten years ago I did a story for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine about the Texas Rescue Competition held at Garner State Park every year. I had asked Susan Ebert, the editor at the time, if the magazine had ever run a story about TRC, and she said, “No, why don’t you write it.” I said I would, if she would send Earl to do the images. She agreed.
The first morning of the competition dawned overcast and misty, after a night of spitting rain. Since rescues seldom happen in perfect weather, a little moisture wasn’t going to hold things up. So Earl and I hiked to the top of a cliff with a rescue group that was given the task of saving someone who had fallen from the 150 foot face and landed on a ledge about 50 feet down.
Earl wanted to get some photos of the ‘patient,’ and the fact that he’d never rappelled before didn’t stop him. We got him hooked up, told him what to do, and over the edge he went. All went well until he rappelled the rest of the way down to the trail later. When I rappelled down to meet him, I found Earl with his britches down, and a member of the rescue team behind him with a Leatherman tool, carefully extracting cactus thorns from Earl’s pride. He had managed to sit in some prickly pear.
I took a picture, but have somehow lost it since. Earl’s photos came out fantastic, and I think it was those photos that caused my piece to become the cover story the month it was published.
Lately Earl has gotten into acting, and has been in several films. He’s a regular on the new Pierce Brosnan series called ‘The Son.’ With his honest face and white beard, Earl looks just like you’d expect a Texas rancher to look 100 years ago.
Above: Earl with a possum on his cap
Wyman is the official State Photographer of Texas. He learned wildlife photography the hard way, by sneaking up on animals all over the country and taking their pictures. Wyman grew up on a huge ranch in North Texas, and when he was just a button he pestered his mom for a camera until she gave in. He never looked back.
After college at Texas Tech Wyman started submitting some of his pictures to magazines, and getting rejected. He regarded each rejection as a challenge to do better, and before long his photos were being published all over the place. He’s won just about every award the world of photography offers, and was finally asked to teach for Tech. His classes, usually taught around Junction because of the Tech facility there, are regarded as some of the best anywhere.
Earl and I helped roast his editor, Louie Bond, at the TOWA conference. Besides being the general editor of TPW magazine, Louie is a singer/songwriter/guitar player. She and I have enjoyed picking and singing badly together at the TOWA meetings for years, but we have an unspoken agreement professionally. I don’t write for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, and she doesn’t ask me to. Louie once played a song she had written at a TOWA conference called, ‘I’m Pretty Sure I’ll Never Murder You.’ She was looking at me when she sang it.
Above: Kendall and Louie Bond. (Contributed/Kendal Hemphill)
So I sat at dinner and reflected on how ironic it was that I was eating with the two best photographers in Texas, and I’m the worst photographer anywhere. But that’s OK. I may not be any good at taking pictures, but I’m great at playing lousy music . . .