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Gary Borders: Stephen F. Austin State's East Texas Research Center has a new acquisition

Gary Borders

I wrote a few months back about getting rid of stuff so that my daughters or wife do not have to go through the arduous task of doing so after I’m gone. Both my wife and I had to help dispose of our parents’ possessions after their deaths. I had to do it twice: the first time after moving them into assisted living, and again with what remained after they passed. Even after the family gathered what photos, artwork and memorabilia we wanted, there were a couple boxes left of photo albums. They remain in a storage unit.

I have been a newspaper photographer since 1977 for six different newspapers. During the years of shooting film up to 1990, I kept carefully organized files of my negatives. I also retained a dozen or so boxes of prints. Adding to this are several file drawers of research materials for a book published in 2006, materials gathered for a book about Civil War-era newspapers in which I lost interest, a few dozen microfilm reels of old newspapers, and miscellaneous files of Texana. The files fill nearly two filing cabinets. The shelf in my bedroom closet is stuffed with binders and boxes.


For decades, I have lugged this collection around as I moved for job-related reasons from town to town. No more. I contacted the director of the East Texas Research Center, located in Steen Library at Stephen F. Austin State University, where I spent hundreds of hours doing research. I asked if they would be interested in me donating all this stuff, fully expecting a polite “thanks but no thanks.” Instead I got an email saying the ETRC would happily take anything I wished to donate.

This is excellent news. The material will still be preserved, and it does have some historical value, I suppose.

Before relinquishing the material, I decided to use an online service to have 500 images digitized. I spent a weekend poring through negatives, slides and prints to pick out the images.

I found negatives shot in Big Bend in 1978, on an extended road trip with my brother Scott. I was there just two months ago. It is fascinating to see how the Rio Grande has changed in those three-plus decades. My photos of Santa Elena Canyon back then show a wider, deeper river than what I witnessed in February.

An image of Walter Mondale campaigning for Charlie Wilson went into the pile. Good Time Charlie was a longtime Deep East Texas congressman, made famous when Tom Hanks portrayed him in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” I always enjoyed talking to Charlie. He was invariably good for a quote. To balance the political spectrum, a negative of Gerald Ford campaigning for Ronald Reagan I shot on the UT campus in 1980. I both shook Ford’s hand and shot his photo that day.

There are plenty of negatives of not-so-famous but still fascinating people, like Sam Loggins who made ribbon-cane syrup on his farm outside San Augustine until he was in his 90s. And Alice B. Henry, an artist who made finely detailed paintings out of seeds and bark shavings. One of her small works hangs in our kitchen. Then there’s the infamous photo of the rock leaning against a pine tree shot in 1982. Someone had painted “San Augustine: 10 Miles Ahead, 100 Years Behind” on it. The day after I published it on the front page of The Rambler, the highway department pushed the rock down.

It is a relief to know my favorite images will be digitally preserved, and the physical material will be safely kept as well — just not by me. And my survivors won’t have to anguish over what to do with all these boxes and binders.

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