Equal before the Lens
Jno. Trlica's Photographs of Granger, Texas
Photography - Texas History
8.5 x 11, 208 pp.
118 duotone photos.
Pub Date: 06/01/1992
Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Texas Photography Series
Price:        $34.50


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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1992 Honorable Mention for Golden Light Awards’ Photography Book of the Year Competition, presented by the Main Photographic Workshops

Equal before the Lens

Jno. Trlica's Photographs of Granger, Texas

By Barbara McCandless

People have always documented the turning points in their lives: births, christenings, first communions, graduations, weddings, deaths. For much of the twentieth century, this documentation frequently included a trip to the local professional photographer for a formal portrait. Barbara McCandless records here the events in the lives of the residents of Granger, Texas, through the work of Jno. P. Trlica, the community’s sole full-time photographer from 1924 to 1955.

Granger, a small rural community in the rich blacklands of the state’s central region, is both typical of small Texas towns and unique in its specific story. The transition from a railroad-based to an automobile-based economy and the problems experienced by agricultural communities relying upon the sole crop of “King Cotton” are two chapters told poignantly in the story of Granger. In addition, all the major cultural groups of Texas—Southern Anglos, blacks, Hispanics, and European-immigrant communities—existed in close proximity in the town and experienced all the intercultural tensions that peaked in the 1920s.

Jno. P. Trlica was a first-generation Czech Texan; as part of a marginal subgroup himself, he had access to all the subgroups of Granger. Trlica was especially devoted to his own Czech culture and intentionally documented its groups and social events, as well as the business and social activities of the town of Granger, but his portrait business was open to all segments of society. While other businesses in Granger refused to serve blacks and Hispanics, the Jno. P. Trlica Studio may have been one of the few places in the town where all cultures crossed paths. His portraits today serve as a social history not just of the privileged classes, but of all the people of Granger and the surrounding countryside. They also serve as a testament to a time in photography’s past when the posed studio portrait was both an art form and a significant part of life in small-town America.

Barbara McCandless received a B.A. in anthropology in 1971 from Syracuse University and an M.A. in American Studies in 1987 from the University of Texas at Austin. She served as research associate in the Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin before becoming assistant curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

What Readers Are Saying:

“His carefully posed yet artistic pictures celebrate turning points in the lives of blacks, Mexican Americans, Southern Anglos, and the European immigrant community but scarcely hint at the intercultural tensions among these groups, as McCandless notes in her rewarding introductory essay.” --Publishers Weekly

“ . . . there was something different about Trlica, who kept meticulous records, saved all his negatives and did business with the advertising slogan, `Photographs Live Forever.’ His subjects dressed up for obligatory special-occasion photos, but they also came into his studio on the spur of the moment . . . They might grin into the camera or strike a dance pose, betraying a rapport with the photographer that broke through barriers of class or race. And that, in the end, may be the most unique thing about the pictorial legacy Trlica left . . .” --Austin American-Statesman

“Because Trlica kept meticulous records and saved every negative, his shop became the repository for an intensely documented history of a small town and of a small-town business. . . . Equal before the Lens handsomely reproduces 97 of the businessman-photographer’s black and white images.” --Texas Monthly

“This collection of pictures and portraits proves Jno. P. Trlica was more than just a competent craftsman when he photographed the small Texas town of Granger. . . . His deep and lasting contribution . . . came from his studio, which, despite that era of segregation, he opened to all people of Granger: Black, Hispanic, Anglo. No matter who stood between his camera and the painted canvas backdrop, this Czech-American photographed them straightforwardly and honestly, exposing on film their hopes and dreams. . . . McCandless has provided a thoughtful text to explain Jno. Trlica as both a photographer and a businessman and citizen. Together, they give us a clear view of life in the first half of this century and the world of a small Texas town.” --Southern Living

“McCandless has done a very good job of selecting, arranging, and interpreting the photographs, all of which are reproduced in duotone. The result is a lovely and intriguing book. . . . Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.” --Library Journal

“ . . . Trlica . . . walked into the small community of Granger as King Cotton was walking out and discovered a widespread need for self-definition. The result? A documentary land mine—his small studio in the segregationist town was one of the few places where cultures crossed paths. The book’s ninety-seven plates provide a rare cross-section of a nineteenth-century [?] agricultural town.” --Americana

“It is Trlica’s commercial portraits, grouped together in the last section of the book, that reveal the true nature of Granger. . . . People of every race and social class fill these pages in photographs which would stand alone as strong visual records of their subjects’ lives even without the skillful explication which McCandless gives some of them in earlier portions of the book.” --Texas Books in Review

“ . . . a book that should be found in the sociology, economic, and photography sections of all libraries.” --Multicultural Review

“His photographs and McCandless’s text combine to capture the subjects of the pictures, not in everyday life, but at their dignified, even majestic best. . . . Equal before the Lens captures the dreams of settlers who came to Texas seeking land and a better life.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Inasmuch as Trlica regularly advertised that `Photographs Live Forever,’ it is especially pleasing to think that they can continue to do so as a welcome addition to our Western bookshelf.” --Journal of the West


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