You find them most any day on the museum grounds. Some are here to try and capture the animal life. Some sneak out to find a certain hidden site on the grounds. Others do it in plain sight of historic buildings. There are those who do it to make their mark on a certain date; those who do it on pure whimsy.
Some have been known to do it on one of the bridges, others on the picnic tables or on the grass, in the trees, on the rock walls, and in the bamboo grove. Mostly amateurs, many professional, but mark my word, they are out there…photographers!
The grounds of the museum have long been a favorite setting for photographers.
The ducks, geese, and chickens are friendly enough that you can get some wonderful close ups. A flock of Mexican whistling ducks stopped by recently and after three days were so used to being closely observed and photographed by visitors, one might think they were permanent residents of the park.
Of course the squirrels stay a little leery of people but will edge closer and closer if a treat is involved. If you read Pete Mansweat’s last article “Chickens Like Greek” in The Item, he delved into the diverse group of birds, beasts, bunnies, and other creatures that inhabit the grounds. Some live here permanently, others have been dropped off requiring the staff to do a frantic search for a safe home for them. They all seem to be a little bit of a ham.
While the fauna attracts many picture takers, the flora is another big draw. There are pastoral and bucolic venues on about 16 acres where you can choose large open grassy fields or wooded areas as your setting.
Throughout the seasons there are vibrant hues vying for attention. From azaleas, magnolias, and roses in the spring and summer to the brilliant fall foliage of the new Japanese maples, there is always a splash of color on the grounds. There are areas with a variety of annuals and perennials, including the small gardens in front of the law office and the Guerrant cabin that set forth blooms through out the year.
The winding paths through the woods and the bamboo grove near the Education building also call to those with camera in hand. The last snow brought dozens who wanted to capture a rare glimpse of the park covered in white.
Then there are the structures themselves. The historic buildings, cabins, and the Main Museum are often picked as backdrops or stages for photos. Broad open porches on the Bear Bend and Guerrant cabins offer a rustic background for large or small groups.
A more formal look can be found on the Woodland Home porches or at the Steamboat House. New stone fireplaces on the Bear Bend cabin are an option for backdrops, as are both bridges over the MacMize River.
Search them out and you may find that the grotto or the small WPA era stone bridge on one of the wooded paths is the perfect place for a shot. The true beauty is that with each change in the season, for that matter each changing hour, the sunlight bathes every setting in a different light.
Go at dawn, the sun rising; its rays will be filtering through the trees on the 19th Street side of the park. The shadows cast over the small bridges, the way the front steps on the Steamboat House are illuminated; both are transformed dramatically by dusk. Each dog trot is lit differently, the light on each shifting as the day passes.
One could document any given setting several times throughout the day on film and have just as many diverse photos.
Many of the photographers are like you and me, amateurs. Taking vacation pictures, photos of the family gathering, the new baby, maybe just some snap shots for the album. They could be there for prom photos, glamour shots, and family portraits for Christmas cards, even their senior pictures. Easter outfits, costumes, rodeo regalia, sports gear, it can all be seen here on the grounds. For many bystanders the most enjoyable to watch, amateur or professional, are those with an agenda. Each will have an entourage with them often resplendent in tuxes or formal dresses.
Intense hues of fabric bouquets that try to compete with the flowers blooming in the park. The brilliant white flash of a brides dress, a rainbow of bridesmaid’s gowns, rich jewel like colors of a formal or gown might catch your eye.
When quinceañera photos are being taken, there is a feeling of fiesta in the air with a riot of color, smiling faces, and the young ladies’ proud parents close by.
Not to be out done, the guys are often just as vibrant in tuxes ranging from the traditional black and white to shades that reflect, contrast, or complement the gown adorning the lady they accompany.
No matter the group, with a whirlwind of commands and colors, giggles and laughter, they all seek out different sites to create the perfect image, a visual reminder of an event they want to remember forever.
So what will you bring? An old Kodak or Polaroid? Are you all about digital photos or do you like to get into a dark room and have that hands on experience of developing your own pictures? It’s all here in the park, waiting for you, picture perfect.
D. E. Barker is an historical interpreter at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.