UT Briscoe Center for American history receives archives from award-winning photographers

Jennifer Xia

Photos of international political, social and cultural life from renowned documentary photographers will enrich the existing collection of historical photography at the University’s Briscoe Center for American History.

Archives from Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, award-winning photographers and founders of the nonprofit FotoFest International, will be on display at the center. A larger exhibit will be available in the next few years once their work is sorted and catalogued, but there is currently a mini exhibit on display at the center, said Don Carleton, executive director of the center.

Baldwin and Watriss’ work as documentary photographers focuses particularly in the rural South, according to an interview both had with PBS NewsHour. Carleton said they came to Texas because they were interested in its various ethnic cultures and documented the lives of African Americans in Grimes County and German Texans around Fredericksburg.

“Their work is full of really great, firsthand eyewitness material documenting these cultures that have made Texas what it is today,” Carleton said. “Anyone who is interested in writing about or teaching about the subject matter that their work covers can find rich visual resources.”

Carleton said he had known Baldwin and Watriss personally for over 40 years and sought after their work.

“I’ve always admired and respected the work they do as documentary photographers,” Carleton said. “They eventually retired as the founding directors of the Houston FotoFest a couple years ago and decided it was time to make a decision on what to do with their own huge archives, and that’s how this happened.”

Zahid Hossain, electrical and computer engineering freshman, said it is important to preserve visual details of events.

“People are more likely to believe something when they see it,” Hossain said. “Some things you can’t describe without photography. Putting a face on people instead of just reading it is an important part.” 

Neuroscience freshman Kirsten Yanagi said she appreciates how the center is using art as a medium to attract students.

“I’m a very visual learner, so if I don’t see a picture of what I’m learning it’s very hard for me to understand,” Yanagi said.

Carleton said he is happy that Baldwin and Watriss have decided to place their collection at the Briscoe Center.

“It’s going to be a very valuable resource for students and faculty, as well as researchers off campus,” Carleton said.