Artists in Texas  Karen Zimmerly
Time and Place in Texas

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Karen Zimmerly first started working in photography many years go when she was employed at a small weekly Rhode Island newspaper. Her interest piqued, she went on to take photography classes through the art department at the University of Rhode Island and eventually enrolled in a graduate program at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, earning a MA in photography in 1981.

Karen has earned a living as a picture framer, a photography teacher and most recently as Collections Manager at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, in San Angelo, Texas, where she works to this day. She also always continues to do her own photography, working mostly in black and white though in recent years starting to switch to digital color work.

She and her husband, John Mattson, started a photo project in 1982 when they first moved to Texas, photographing the many declining, small towns. It has been an ongoing project, which they have continued over these many years.

Time and Place in Texas
An ongoing photographic project exploring declining, rural communities in Texas.

     The roots of this project belong in San Angelo, Texas, where we were living in 1982. In those days we didn’t have a lot of money, so for relatively inexpensive entertainment we would hop in the car with our cameras and a road map to explore the many farm roads and small towns of the surrounding area. It was during this time that our love affair with rural, small town Texas began. The excursions became adventures and then turned into a bit of an obsession, which is still with us today.

     We were new to the area and the landscape. For two people who had spent most of their lives in far more urban environments, these small towns, some nearly extinguished, were fascinating and wonderful. We keep going back, often to the same towns to see what’s happened over a period of time. Just as often we find new roads and discover new places. We continue to find these experiences immensely rewarding, so the project continues.

     These are places where people rely on the land for sustenance. From the land crops are grown, livestock is raised, oil and gas extracted. Just as easily crops can fail, recessions occur, towns decline and people leave. Life is tied to the rhythms of nature, the market place, the economy. As artists we attempt to record the traces of lives spent working in anonymity.

     Over the years we’ve collected quite a few pictures, and along the way a few reflections of our own on what these places mean to us. This waxing and waning of small town Texas is a process that yields for us real beauty and interest. The images undoubtedly evoke a sense of nostalgia, but more than a yearning for that which no longer is, we wish to acknowledge what once was. We have a curiosity for other times and other experiences.

Karen Zimmerly


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