The Face of Texas celebrates the individuality and independent spirit of Texas through compelling portraits of its people by Michael O’Brien, one of America’s premier portrait photographers. In this acclaimed photo essay, he assembles a gallery of noteworthy Texans both native and naturalized, ranging from former president George W. Bush and first ladies and Laura Bush and Lady Bird Johnson, to famous figures such as Willie Nelson, Larry McMurtry, George Strait, Tim Duncan, Kinky Friedman, and Beyoncé, to ordinary folks who’ve made their mark on Texas as ranchers and farmers, cheerleaders and beauty queens, conservationists, church members, bar and restaurant owners, Odd Fellows, schoolteachers, artists and writers, business owners, and athletes.
For this new edition of The Face of Texas, O’Brien has added seventeen new portraits and six updated photographs of people from the first edition. Writer and former Life reporter Elizabeth O’Brien offers insightful verbal vignettes to accompany the new portraits and also brings us up to date with the lives of the rest of the subjects. This winning combination of images and stories about a fascinating, eclectic mix of Texans is a fitting homage to a unique state and an essential addition to every Texas bookshelf.
I don’t have a cowboy hat, my boots give me blisters, and I’ve never shot a gun. I’m nervous around horses, and I can’t lasso a steer. But I love big clouds, wide spaces, mythic characters, and the Western spirit. I’ve fallen in love with Texas. It’s my home.
I have loved the state from the start. In 1985, when I was still in New York, Life magazine sent me to photograph Willie Nelson. He was on his ranch in Spicewood, outside Austin, making the movie Red Headed Stranger. I knew right off I’d found an extraordinary place--though I guess anywhere around Willie is special. After hanging around Willie and the boys making the film about a preacher gone mad and his ultimate redemption, I knew I’d had enough of New York. I needed some redemption of my own. I felt like a tick embedded in the thick of Brooklyn. I needed to pry myself free and claim Texas soil.
But in the meantime, stuck up north, I worked in Texas as often as I could. Hasselblads, Swedish cameras that are built like anvils, were my cameras of choice. They were tough enough to take on Texas, devouring rolls of film. Armed with the “Blads,” a couple of Nikons, and a 4x5, I rolled across Texas, moving from assignment to assignment. Any job here was adventurous . . . rugged cowboys, wily politicians, big-haired beauty queens, crazy musicians, eccentric artists, city people, country folk. I got up early and stayed up late, driving across the state in a beat-up Chevy Suburban filled with fumes from a leaky gas generator that powered the strobes on remote locations. I blasted away, and I was on a roll.
It took me eight more years to escape New York. But I finally got here in 1993. I continued my work, now closer to home.
Now, it’s thirty years later and more than a decade since The Face of Texas was first published. You’ll love the characters just by their names: Ran, Obie, Sloan, Ruby, Darden, Troy, Roosevelt, Willie, Red, Ty. Bull riders, preachers, athletes, ranchers, churchgoers, ropers, farmers, singers . . . they all dance across the pages. Elizabeth tells their stories, and they come to life. Yep, it’s Texas, and it’s larger than life.
A two-time recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for outstanding coverage of the disadvantaged, O’Brien has photographed subjects ranging from small-town heroes to presidents. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Life, National Geographic, Texas Monthly, the London Sunday Times, and the book Hard Ground, which pairs his portraits of the homeless with Tom Waits’ powerful poetry. O’Brien’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC; the International Center of Photography in New York City; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.
A lifelong collector of personal stories, O’Brien has worked as a reporter for Life magazine, as well as for newspapers in South Florida. Today, she is a writer and a psychotherapist with a private practice.
"O’Brien’s work does not explicitly comment on the passage of time, but the theme pervades this new volume as we read of where many of the photograph’s long-lost subjects ended up. For the celebrities, the effect is charming. We’re briefly reminded of how public figures ranging from Beyonce to Laura Bush to Mack Brown appeared at younger stations in their lives....The wide frames, sober expressions and spare backgrounds make even those subjects without fame and riches — the cops, farmers, churchgoers, and grocers — look like legends in their own right. But set side by side over 140 pages, the photographs take on a haunting atmosphere."
―Maurice Chammah, Austin American-Statesman