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For 120 Years, Four Generations Of One Family Photograph North Texas

For more than a century, a family of Fort Worth photographers has captured vivid scenes across Dallas-Fort Worth and around the state. Four generations of Williams photographers have shot thousands of images, ranging from Pancho Villa's soldiers to author Larry McMurtry, from western landscapes to street life in Fort Worth.

The University of North Texas recently acquired thousands of these pictures. KERA’s Anne Bothwell talked with Byrd Williams IV, whose photos, along with those of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, are included in the collection. It includes more than 10,000 prints and 300,000 negatives.

Williams says about 75 percent of the collection documents Fort Worth. The collection also includes images from other parts of Texas, including photos of Pancho Villa's soldiers fighting near El Paso in 1915.

UNT offers background on the family:

Byrd Moore Williams owned a hardware store in Gainesville. But he also sold cameras and operated a darkroom in his home. The earliest prints in the collection document the Gainesville area. Byrd Moore Williams, Jr. (Byrd Williams II) started his photographic career in college at the University of Texas in 1905. He went on to career in engineering, documenting many major projects, including the construction of the San Antonio River walk with his camera. Byrd Williams III opened a photo service in Fort Worth. The collection contains a large number of studio prints as well as prints documenting the family’s growing interest in artistic photography. Williams III’s collection includes a significant series of prints documenting women at work in Fort Worth during the 1930s. Byrd Williams IV continued in his father’s footsteps – sometimes literally. He shot images of the same street corners in Fort Worth 40 years later. Williams’s career has included street scenes, portraits of gun crime victims, and televangelists, among other subjects. Williams is an artist and a photography professor at Collin College.

KERA Interview Highlights: Byrd Williams IV …

… on his grandfather photographing soldiers for Pancho Villa, the Mexican Revolutionary general: My grandfather got an engineering job on the bridge that goes from Juarez to El Paso in 1915. And that was around the time that Pancho Villa’s army was whipping the Mexican army. … They had to take a work crew on the Rio Grande every day and he had to go to Pancho’s train car. He lived in a train car. And they’d say “We’re just working down here. Please don’t shoot us!” He photographed Pancho’s soldiers there.

… on his dad developing Lee Harvey Oswald film for the FBI: It was brought through by the crime lab. When the assassination happened they took investigation pictures, since we were the closest local lab, they brought the investigation pictures through Byrd Photo. They stayed with the film. They cleared all the employees. Everybody was sent home and dad developed the film with the FBI there.  And about a month later they came back and sent the employees home again and they inspected the trash. … It kind of scared my dad.

… on his family’s photographic adventures: I’d say 75 to 80 percent of it is in Fort Worth. We’d come to Fort Worth and leave. But there’s the North Texas/Gainesville area, there’s El Paso … along the coast. Both my granddad and my dad shot commercial jobs on Padre Island. It’s sprinkled across the state.

… on standing in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps: I really like it. Whenever I find a roll of film of my dad’s, they’re all in order. They’re shot in 35 mm and ordered. I can make his walk downtown. It’s kind of interesting. I can see he shot on this corner and then he walked over here and shot this. I find it fun and I think it’s very wonderful standing where an artist worked.

… on whether the family photography tradition will continue (he has two sons): No they’re not [photographers]. Neither of them had any interest in it.  I was never given a choice. We were … digging this ditch. We were in a photo service. I never got asked whether I wanted to or not. I gave them the choice. They said: “No.” It stops with me.

Byrd Williams IV sent KERA several photos from his family's collection. Click on the slideshow above to explore the images -- other images are below.

Credit Byrd Williams family collection
Four generations of the Byrd family. From left, Byrd Williams, Byrd Williams II, Byrd Williams III, Byrd Williams IV.

Credit Byrd Williams IV
Author Larry McMurtry, 1990s.

Credit Byrd Williams II
Pancho Villa's soldiers, 1915.

Credit Byrd Williams II
Austin, 1904.

Credit Byrd Williams
An engineer in Gainesville, 1906.

Credit Byrd Williams III
Twins in 1954.

Credit Byrd Williams II
A Fort Worth city worker, 1920s.

All photos courtesy of the Byrd Williams family collection