Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin are returning to Grimes County Feb. 18, at the Navasota Community Center’s Bluebonnet Room, at 7 p.m., for a return ‘thank you’ to all those who contributed to their worldwide photo fame. They will be showing and chatting with a power point presentation about some of the early photos they took in the 1970s and 1980s. They call it “Grimes County, a Journey in Time,” a visit back to local family albums, rodeos and the cotton fields.
The free event is sponsored by the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation and the Grimes County Historical Commission. Watriss and Baldwin, with their Grimes County photography that began in the 1970s, first caught the internationally known attention of Dominique de Menil that thrust the pair into a path to worldwide prominence. Many of the photographs displayed in the Grimes County Courthouse at Anderson are Wendy’s and Fred’s.
As they recently told PBS’s Jeffrey Brown, in 1971, they loaded up a tiny trailer and embarked on a journey (over 50 years ago) through some of the back roads of rural America, a trip that would shape much of the rest of their careers. The trip started in Maryland over the Appalachians, into Arkansas and finally into Texas.
Basically, they spent the next decade in Grimes County as well as regional German and Hispanic communities. In Grimes County they met Willie Buchanan as he roared down the road, pulled up and asked, “What are you all doing here?”
Wendy and Fred told him they were photographing a church and looking for a place to put their trailer. Willie gave them a beer and said, “follow me.” They moved into Willie’s back pasture and remained there off and on for three years.
That was the beginning of what became the Texas Project that five years later thrust them into the international world when art-minded de Menil first saw their work and gave the globe-trotting photojournalists a show at Rice University in 1976. Eight busloads of Grimes County citizens made the trip to the exhibition.
In 1983, after the Houston Fine Arts Museum was founded by de Menil, Watriss and Baldwin settled in Houston in one of the cottages adjacent to the Museum. By 1986 they founded FotoFest that became one of the largest biennial photojournalist exhibitions in the world.
Watriss and Baldwin, currently, now five decades later, still live in that cottage when they aren’t traveling the world promoting FotoFest. Just this past November, the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin announced it has received the archives of Watriss and Baldwin adding them to its nationally renowned documentary photography collections.
The Briscoe Center states the work illustrates an array of social, cultural and political movement in the life of the United States since the 1970s. It also includes the pair’s extensive work in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe, and includes work that has appeared in their independent documentary projects and worldwide publications. The Baldwin and Watriss collections will be available for research, teaching and exhibition after the Briscoe Center completes an extensive cataloging project in 2021.