New Book 'Images of Fayette County' Captures Local Life

By Linda Stall, published in the Fayette County Record, October 2014

The Photographers
Joan and Jerry Herring welcome me into the gallery space at the Red & White in Fayetteville to talk about their newest book, "Images of Fayette County." Joan greets me warmly. She is striking, lovely and very outgoing. Jerry is serious and intense, but do not be fooled, beneath his serious exterior is a creative soul, with colorful striped socks. They are in the process of hanging the photographs for the Images of Fayette County exhibit opening at the Red & White on October 11. We sit in rocking chairs surrounded by their work to talk about the book. Articulate and expressive, Jerry describes their process. The Herrings are photographers. They see their surroundings through the lens. "It is a way of seeing with discipline," Jerry says, "through the camera you see things differently, Joan sees things differently than I do." He describes Joan's photographs taken on a past trip, "gorgeous images" he says, "things I didn't even see."

What they have captured in this book are images which exist for a fraction of a second. A boy suspended over the Colorado River on a rope swing preparing to plunge into the water, a little girl lingering in a doorway at the County Fair, MS-150 bicyclists riding through a sea of bubbles, images frozen in that moment, gone a second later.

Joan and Jerry shoot together, swapping cameras if one has a better lens. It may be Joan shooting out the window while Jerry drives, or even holding the wheel while Jerry gets the shot out of his window, "if no one is around!" Joan laughs. You will not see individual photo credits in the book, because they don't always remember exactly who took which photo.

The Book
Jerry Herring has written and published many books, on artists, on Houston, Galveston, even a corporate book for Fulbright & Jaworski. I would say it's mode of self-expression, except that would not be true. Jerry is a painter, a graphic designer, a photographer. I asked if this was their first book together. Joan quickly answered yes, but then hesitated. Jerry explained they have been working on their "first" book, a collection of photographs taken during their journey around the entire perimeter of the "lower 48" states, for years. It hasn't been published yet.

Images of Fayette County is a collection of photos taken beginning in 2009 when they arrived in Fayette County. Like many Houstonians the Herrings decided they wanted a place in the country, ultimately their full time residence. Their search ended with the perfect property just outside Ellinger, now named Blackbird Farm. There they built their home, a working studio for projects, and Herring Hall, a large event space with gallery-like quality. Its high ceilings and white walls make a perfect display area for their personal art collection, and some of Jerry's own bold canvas.

Jerry has had a life-time career as a graphic designer, starting Herring Design, now run by his son. As a young man, Jerry got a grant to work in a photography studio where he learned to mix darkroom chemicals for developing photographs. Joan previously owned a Houston framing business and gallery. She also began by working for a photographer, doing darkroom work. Coincidentally, they both bought the same "first camera," a Pentax. But the world of photography has changed with the advent of digital photography, less film, fewer darkrooms. "The fact that the photographer doesn't have to stop to reload changes everything."

The Photos
Everyone who picks up this book will find a favorite place, a familiar scene, maybe even themselves. The Herrings tell the story of our country through their eyes. Jerry describes the process of assembling the book, creating its beautiful look. First the format: square, one photo per page. Then the categories: the county, the look, the community. Then "the pace," as he describes it.

The photos flow from one to the next. On one page a roof line draws the eye, a visual link to the shadow crossing the façade of an old house in the facing photo. A patient hunting dog caught waiting in a mud-splattered truck opposite a startling photo of a caged feral hog. An old red barn captured glowing in the late-day sun opposite a roaring red-orange campfire. With their cameras always in hand, Joan and Jerry catch these fleeting moments.

Jerry loves photographing Fayette County's churches, and there are some spectacular views in the book, including St. Mary's in Ellinger radiantly lit at night. Joan points out one of her shots, a weathered log sticking up from the river, its shadow creating a "greater than" symbol. It's a very graphic image with symbolism that gives it an image within the image.

The book is filled with photographs that are uniquely Fayette County, floured hands making kolaches, exquisite painted churches, town squares, fiddlers, cemeteries in the morning mist.

It is nearly impossible to choose a favorite. Like a parent choosing a favorite child, Joan and Jerry had a hard time selecting the images from the thousands of "favorites" they have taken. Each image will resonate with the viewer in a deeply personal way. In Images of Fayette County, the Herrings have captured the essence of our home-place.