When Austin-based company EmDash re-designed the Texas Observer, they created a series called “Eye on Texas” which is dedicated to photographers shooting in Texas. Eye on Texas has featured the work of some wonderfully talented contributors in the past including: Nicole Frugé, Kenny Braun, Sarah Wilson, Matt Rainwaters and many more. Because the Texas Observer is a nonprofit, the budget for this feature is low, but provides an opportunity for photographers to get personal projects published that might not have a home otherwise.

I recently spoke with Kate Collins of EmDash about Eye on Texas.

WM: How did you come up with the idea for Eye on Texas?
Kate Collins: We came up with the idea during the redesign of the magazine. Typically the last page is sold as advertising in consumer or trade magazines—it’s prime real estate. Since they had very little advertising, their inside back cover was being used for editorial. We thought it should end with more visual impact and be a stronger statement as you finish reading the magazine. The focus at the Observer is investigative journalism, so it just made sense to showcase documentary photography here. We had been on the lookout for a way to spotlight documentary work somehow for a while. At the time, I had been hanging out with a lot of photographers who were venting about how there is no place to showcase this type of work anymore, so it was fresh in my mind.

We had been on the lookout for a way to spotlight documentary work somehow for a while

©Bob Wynn, Friday Night At House Park

WM: I feel like the quality of these images is really high, especially considering you only have a $50 budget! Some of these photos are the kind that stay with you for years (like the State Fair image of the bear on the ball). Could you talk a little about how you find photographers and stories?
I am always on the hunt for contributors. Thankfully there are a lot of photographers in Texas, and Texas is big enough and interesting enough to keep us going. My resources vary from email submissions, attending SlideLuck Potshow, word of mouth, and always looking at the personal sections of photographers’ websites when I am working on other projects. Our budget is VERY low and a few past contributors have definitely fallen into the “personal favor” category. But I would say more often than not, photographers understand the importance of news outlets like the Texas Observer, and that this page offers an opportunity to showcase work that few magazines would have a place for.

©Lynn Lennon, State Fair of Texas 

Thankfully there are a lot of photographers in Texas, and Texas is big enough and interesting enough to keep us going

WM: Do you edit the project for the magazine? If so, do you work with the photographer to create the edit?
Kate Collins: I typically suggest an edit—mostly out of respect for photographers’ time. Also its really fun sorting through the work. Since the money is so tight, I want to make this experience as easy as possible for them. If the photographer prefers another shot, I have no problem pitching that to the editors. The goal is to make this a great experience, and for them to be excited about what ends up in print.

The goal is to make this a great experience, and for them to be excited about what ends up in print.

WM: Do you have any favorite Eye on Texas photo projects?
Kate Collins: Man, that is tough because I really love them all. Recently I would say Kirsten Luce’s,  Sweet Tea. It’s a photograph of nudists in a RV Park in Edcouch. Kristen shot this for The Monitor and she said they cropped it because it was too risqué. You couldn’t even tell what was going on in the image they ran. So she was excited to see it run in its full glory. Personally, I love this shot because when people think of nudists they typically think of sex or something perverted. But these are folks just hanging in their kitchen drinking tea. It’s brilliant. We found out later that the Texas Prison system didn’t distribute this issue because of the “lewd content”—which is also pretty amazing.

©Kirsten Luce, Sweet Tea

On the more serious side, I loved Nicole Frugé’s contribution titled Love Among the Lost. It’s a heartbreaking moment from a heartbreaking story. Nicole met a homeless couple in San Antonio who had been married four days after meeting for the first time. The image shows the woman cleaning out their “closet” . They were preparing to move to a new town to start over. The image captures their desperate situation and doesn’t show much hope for their circumstances changing.

©Nicole Fruge, Love Among the Lost


Do you have a documentary project that you are interested in submitting for Eye on Texas? Send inquiries to editors@texasobserver.org.

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