Hiking Texan: Wyman Meinzer
Wyman Meinzer, State Photographer of Texas
If you've been into a park headquarters, flipped through any outdoor or adventure magazine or seen a gorgeous coffee table book featuring stunning and mesmerizing landscapes from the wild regions of Texas, chances are you've been captivated by Wyman's work.
Wyman Meinzer is the Official Photographer of the state of Texas, an honor awarded to him in 1997 that he still holds today. You don’t just take a few good photos and post them on Instagram to earn a title like that! You’ve got to do it the old fashioned way — wake up early, stay out late and walk the land day in, day out and that is exactly what Wyman has done over his illustrious career. We caught up with Wyman to hear some of his stories from his time photographing our wild lands, his outdoor adventures, what a career in photography looks like, and his most recent adventure — joining Instagram at the beginning of 2020.
Hiking Texas: Are you a native Texan and from what part of the state? What was your first experience with Texas?
Wyman Meinzer: I am a native Texan and was born in Knox County, Texas, in the rolling plains between Wichita Falls and Lubbock. From early childhood until college age, my life was spent on a 27,000-acre ranch along the Brazos river where my father was the ranch foreman. Growing up working, exploring and hunting on a big ranch was a fantastic life for a young boy. It taught me independence and supported an inherent curiosity about the natural history of wildlife that I still harbor today.
HT: Can you tell us about your photographic journey, how you got started and ultimately how you ended up becoming the State Photographer of Texas?
WM: My mother gave me a camera when I was about 12-14 years of age. It was an old twin lens Kodaflex II. I carried it in my saddlebags and shot images of ranch animals and mundane subjects of that nature but became disenchanted with the camera when it would not focus close enough for detailed tight shots. At that point my interest in photography waned for a period of time.
After enrolling at Texas Tech University in 1969 to study Wildlife Biology, I became involved in research and was offered a grant to study the feeding habits of coyotes in the rolling plains. At that point my major professor, Dr. Darrell Ueckert, insisted that I document my collected data and loaned me an old twin lens Argus 35mm. It would focus close so my interest in photography was reignited. The Range and Wildlife Department furnished all the Kodachrome that I needed so opportunities to shoot images at my leisure was good practice.
After graduating college in 1974 I had purchased a Canon TL and decided to continue using 35mm as a fun endeavor. Finally, in 1975 my interest in shooting for the editorial markets was born while I was working for the Forest Service in part time capacity while living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The main target venues were the outdoor magazines popular at the time. After two months of living in the Santa Fe/Las Vegas, New Mexico region, I returned home to a life of professional hunting and self-training to be a published photographer.
I began submitting in 1977 but received many letters of refusal, which really angered me to the point that I decided I would learn how to create publishable images despite my lack of formal training as a photographer. Finally, in about 1979 I was published in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine and National Wildlife at about the same time. At that point it became evident that I would have to maintain, and even improve the quality of my work to achieve my goal, thus I began to study what the other shooters were submitting on the national level. In 1981 my first image to a national magazine, Field and Stream, and in the same year I had three national covers on Sports Afield, American Hunter and Petersens Hunting. This was a turning point for my career.
By 1985 I had many national covers to my credit and was named one of five “New Breed” of photographers in America by Sports Afield Magazine. In 1987, the Department of Range Management at Texas Tech selected me as “Outstanding Alumni” for my publishing efforts. In 1990 I transitioned into publishing books and largely steered away from the magazine market as this type of shooting was becoming boring and I did not like where the market was heading. By 1995 I had authored two books and photographed two more. Also, other book projects were in the works.
In 1997 I was called by a Texas Representative and told that the Legislature had named me the State photographer of Texas. I was presented the title on the Legislative floor of that year. The reasons, I believe, is because my work did not specialize in any one subject, but instead celebrated all of Texas, from its history, culture, the land, wildlife and sky. It seems it was a choice made by the legislature branch because I was sort of an ambassador for the state. I love the land and the people and get along with both very well.
HT: What does this title “State Photographer of Texas” mean to you? What kind of impact and influence do you feel you hold when you pick up your camera?
WM: Being the State Photographer is a great honor, sort of an affirmation for celebrating all that defines our state, through the photographic medium. In all honesty, it is only a title, but it is one that I am honored to hold. There is a level of prestige that goes with it, but I think little of that. My intent to is showcase Texas and all of its geographical, historical, natural, and cultural features, those qualities that make it the greatest state.
HT: Can you share one of your favorite experiences from your career that took place in a state park, national park or wildlife management area?
WM: I used to shoot a lot in the state and national parks and on many wildlife management areas although over the past several years my work has been on large ranches around the state. But I have spent many memorable years shooting in the park system.
Perhaps one of the more memorable times was when the Executive Director of TPW, Andrew Sansom, asked me if I wanted to document the capture of the J.A. Ranch buffalo herd, a four month endeavor, where they would be transferred to Caprock Canyon SP and retained as the State Bison Herd. I accepted the offer and spent a total of two weeks staying on the J.A. Ranch and documenting the capture and transfer of the last genetic pool of southern plains bison.
I harbor other good memories as well, such as documenting the landscape of both the Big Bend Ranch before it officially became a park as well as the Chinati Mountains, an area yet to be opened to the public by TPWD. A friend and I spent many weeks over a period of years flying into the mountains in a Bell Jet Ranger chopper, camping out on the land or in a stone cabin in the Chinatis and hiking the mountains where only the mountain lion and deer tread.
HT: Of all the many beautiful locations around Texas, if you had one last trip to plan, where would you go and what would you do?
WM: Although I would like to still cover many topics, one that really intrigues me are the living dunes along the Texas coast. I am doing some of it now, but plan on more trips, if possible. The really big ones are on private land holdings and I have access to most, but more are out there to shoot. Now I use a drone quite often and am able to shoot the dunes in conditions that would be very impractical on land, but quite nice from the sky.
HT: What are some of the most exciting and concerning developments or trends that you see across the state that impact our wild and public lands?
WM: One point that really concerns me is the decline of so many of our river systems. Too many dams are being constructed on the tributaries and headwaters of our rivers thus reducing the water flow. The floods of decades ago, when I was a child, are almost nonexistent on our prairie rivers today, and is causing the channels to narrow and diminish. It saddens me.
HT: What has life brought you right now, what kind of projects are you working on?
WM: Over the past 40 plus years I have had the unique opportunity to see and experience so many things that otherwise would have been impossible had I not “taken to the lens” many decades ago. From documenting life on some of the most famous big ranches in Texas to being the first person to photograph virtual modern day frontier landscapes in the Wild Horse Desert region, my career has been good.
I don’t have anything specific in mind at the moment regarding new works. The 27 books I have illustrated, including the two that I both shot and authored, is a fine lineup that defines my life work. I would like to work on another book or two, or even maybe write one on my life experiences as my early years on the ranch were hardly exemplary of the work I do today. From being a cowboy, a professional predator hunter, a fairly well recognized photographer and 12 years as a college photo instructor, life has been interesting.
HT: You’ve recently joined Instagram, what brought you to the platform and are you enjoying it?
WM: I came to Instagram recently due to the prodding of a friend. Since it is a platform for imagery, I figured it could do nothing but help expose my work to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to view it. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and Instagram was another good venue. Also, I have over 20,000 contributors on Facebook so I figured a few more viewers would not hurt anything.
HT: What makes Texas the best state in the country?
WM: I believe Texas is the best state for many reasons, not the least being fine people throughout. Also, the state is defined by such diversity in landscape as well as culture. We have mountains, desert, seashores, plains and forests. These aspects combined with good people who are proud of our heritage equates to the greatest state.
HT: Any parting thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
WM: During my tenure as an adjunct instructor in editorial photography at Texas Tech University, my classes were primarily senior and graduate students. Thus, at the end of each semester, I would take time to visit with them about their life aspirations. In the end I would encourage them to take some time and follow the voice from within, if only for a short time. If the message was strong enough, it would direct them in life, and if not, well, it was not wasted time because they tried. I listened to that voice and answered it with hard work and dedication, and in my life journey I found happiness and fulfillment that far outweighs monetary gain. The lands I have seen, the people I’ve had the honor to meet, well, it is happiness and experiences that money simply cannot buy.
Follow the voice from your heart and be willing to engage the work required if you are to attain your dream. Achieving life goals is not easy, so be willing to stay the course. Treat everyone, even strangers, as if they are the greatest people you’ve ever met, and you will be rewarded. Good things will come your way.
Connect with Wyman on Instagram: @wymanmeinzer
Visit Wyman’s website: wymanmeinzer.com
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