Derrick Birdsall is a photographer who likes to explore locations off the beaten path. At 6 p.m. on May 23, his photography exhibit “Under a Texas Sky” will open at the Wynne Home Arts Center. From Caddo Lake to the Guadalupe Mountains of Far West Texas, Birdsall gravitates toward remote places and favors old buildings that are slowly being reclaimed by the forest.
“Mother Nature always wins,” said Birdsall. “I like to explore. I always want to know what’s around the corner and I’m captivated by the incongruency of man made and natural elements.”
He’s been capturing images in the middle of nowhere for over a decade, like the Mariscal Mine in Big Bend National Park. Three of the monolithic buildings where mercury was once processed for wartime munitions are well preserved. The surrounding structures are slowly crumbling, returning back to the red earth from which they were built.
Birdsall’s perspective highlights what remains in sharp contrast to what is falling away. The sky above adds layers of texture with clouds that suggest an impending storm in the distance. This knack for capturing the sky as an expressive element is one of the signatures of his work.
Birdsall’s love of photography got serious on a trip to Europe in 2007. With just a simple point and shoot camera, he captured everything he possibly could on a tour of Greece and Italy. He says the history nerd in him was overwhelmed by all the images. The photographer that was yet to be revealed simply followed his instincts.
When his step grandmother Adair Peterson saw the images, she told Birdsall that he had a good eye for composition.
She was a renowned landscape artist in New Mexico, and he trusted her judgment. He started to research the elements of photography, gradually learning how cameras work, and practicing techniques to capture light and shadow.
He has now taught roughly a dozen photography workshops at Cap Rock State Park, Farmers Branch, Lewisville, Mesquite, and at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum where he is currently the director.
Since taking that post in 2021, he has less time for venturing trips but still manages to fit in short jaunts when he travels for work.
Birdsall’s influences include SHSU Alum Robert Langham, Texas State Photographer Wyman Meinzer, SHSU professor Mike Yawn, and his good friend Ken Zoller.
“Mike Yawn doesn’t give himself nearly enough credit. I really enjoy his work. Ken and I like the same kind of stuff, but our approach is completely different. We’ve been on several photography trips together. He is very structured, with a meticulous schedule. I don’t put any additional stress on myself. I do photography to relax,” said Birdsall.
His main agenda in sharing his photography is to inspire others to get outside and explore Texas. Although he has taken photos from state line to state line, some of his favorite images were found within a thirty mile radius of Huntsville. In the show, one captures a comet over Lake Conroe. Another is a shot of the National Forest in the fall.
“The first order of business is to leave your house,” said Birdsall. “Get off your screen and go somewhere where your phone doesn’t get reception.”
Birdsall likes to share his favorite locations with those who are interested and encourages those attending the show to ask for directions. He challenges people to take just one camera and one lens and figure it out. Most of all, he advises that you take pictures of what you like.
“If other people like them, that’s a bonus. I take pictures of places and things I want to remember,” said Birdsall. ”Everybody likes different things. You can always improve with techniques, so don’t listen to all the chatter on social media. You should photograph what makes you happy.”
His next workshop is in late June with the Woodlands Photography Club. For more information about their organization, visit https://www.thewoodlandsphotographyclub.com/.
The Wynne Home is located at 1428 11th St. For more information about their events, follow them on Facebook.
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