The Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss Archives
The Briscoe Center for American History is pleased to announce an outstanding addition to its nationally renowned collection of documentary photography. Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, award-winning photographers and co-founders of FotoFest International, have donated their extensive archives to the Center. The archives include their individual and collective work as documentary photographers, writers, journalists, exhibition curators and organizers of FotoFest.
Their works illustrate an array of social, cultural, and political currents in U.S. life since the 1950s. They have also photographed extensively in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. In addition to their independent documentary projects, their work has appeared in publications throughout the world including Esquire, NationalGeographic, Life, the NewYorkTimes, Newsweek, Stern, Photoreporter, and Geo. Their books include: Coming to Terms – The German Hill Country of Texas (1991); Image and Memory – Photography from Latin America, 1866-1994 (1998); Looking at the U.S. 1957–1986 (2009); and Dear Mr. Picasso: An Illustrated Love Affair with Freedom (2019). In 2018, their documentary work in Texas was profiled by PBS National Newshour.
“For seven decades Fred and Wendy have worked tirelessly to capture the changing character of American life. They have done so with dexterity, elegance, and remarkable patience,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Many of the center’s photojournalism archives focus on news photography. Fred and Wendy’s work joins those of others at the center—including Russell Lee, Robert Freson, and Stephen Shames—whose careers have focused on documentary photography, which follows the patterns and stories of history, in depth and detail.”
Fred Baldwin was born in Switzerland in 1929. His father, an American diplomat, died when he was five years old. He joined the Marines in 1950 and was dispatched to the war in North Korea where he was wounded and decorated. It was in Korea that Baldwin first began capturing his experiences through photography. After the war, he moved between France and the United States. While still a student at Columbia College, he charmed his way into Pablo Picasso’s residence in Cannes on the French Riviera, taking pictures that would launch him and his Leica around the world on documentary assignments—from arctic Norway to Borneo, India and Afghanistan. Early in his career, Baldwin photographed the Ku Klux Klan in Reidsville, Georgia, and in 1963 he began to document the civil rights movement, volunteering for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His images would form the basis of the book Freedom’s March: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah (2008).
In 1970 he met Wendy Watriss, a freelance photographer and stringer for Newsweek and the New York Times. Born in San Francisco in 1943, she grew up in Greece, Spain, France and the U.S. In the 1960s, she worked as a political reporter for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and later as a documentary television producer for the Public Broadcast Laboratory (the predecessor of PBS). In 1968-69 she worked across Eastern Europe, where she covered the Prague Spring and the evolution of socialism in Hungary and Romania.
During the 1970s Baldwin and Watriss forged a personal and professional partnership that continues to this day. In 1972 they started a project: “to rediscover our own country, places and people off the main roads.” They started their journey in the southern U.S., across Alabama, Mississippi, and the Arkansas Delta into Texas in a camper being towed by a 1957 220S Mercedes Cabriolet. They spent the next 15 years in Texas, capturing local life in compelling detail. They documented four distinct cultural frontiers in Texas, producing books and projects about each—black and white life in Grimes County; descendants of German settlers in Gillespie County; and Spanish-Mexican working families and ranchers in the Rio Grande Valley and Big Bend regions. They are now working on a film about race relations in he U.S., based on their work in Grimes County.
During the 1980s and 90s, they also pursued individual projects, including Watriss’s coverage of the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange on U.S. Vietnam veterans as well as the public response to the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her Agent Orange photographs won the World Press Feature Story Award and Leica’s prestigious Oskar Barnack Award for work about human society and the environment. Collectively and individually, Baldwin and Watriss worked as freelance photographers in Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, West Africa, and the southern-southwestern U.S.
In 1983 Baldwin and Watriss founded the Houston-based FotoFest International to create a new non-profit U.S. platform for photography to give visibility to conceptual and documentary photography from across the world and provide international opportunities for photographers beyond established museums and commercial galleries. The first Biennial, held in 1986, is now a world-renowned photography event. In 1990, FotoFest inaugurated its year-round education program, “Literacy Through Photography,” in collaboration with Wendy Ewald. In 1994, a program of traveling shows, exchange programs, and book publications was established for the Biennials and FotoFest’s new public art programming between biennial events. The eighteenth biennial FotoFest will be held in 2020. Focusing on photography and photo-based media work from Africa, it continues FotoFest’s tradition of curating a platform where ideas and art can be discussed and discovered within the framework of exhibits, talks, films and portfolio reviews.
The Baldwin and Watriss collections will be available for research, teaching, and exhibition after the Briscoe Center completes an extensive cataloging project with them in 2021.