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Equal Before The Lens

March 2023
1min read

Jno. Trlica’s photographs of Granger, Texas

by Barbara McCandless; Texas A&M University Press; 198 pages.

Trlica’s photographic career spanned the years 1924 to 1955, all in the small central Texas community of Granger. Home to a large Czech population, to which Trlica belonged, Granger seemed to reserve its greatest pride for its standing as “the Paved Street Town,” the first Texas community of less than five thousand able to make the claim. A new volume devoted to Trlica’s photographs weaves the strands of life in that small town. Scenes of Czech religious gatherings bump up against a view of the stage for a “Popular Lady” contest or the window display for shoes at Friendly Fives, which are all perched on oversize dice. Trlica’s fledgling career was helped along when the Eastman Kodak Company decided to extend its sway over smalltown and rural America with special traveling schools that gave tips to photographic entrepreneurs, thereby opening up a whole new market for the company’s wares.

Even without Kodak’s help Trlica would have most likely succeeded. As the title explains, remarkably for the time and place he welcomed blacks and Hispanics as his customers, and for these bread-and-butter pictures he charged a low fee. Brothers and sisters, graduates and newly married couples, laborers and altar boys, families and friends stand on a slightly ragged Oriental rug before a painted backdrop. Although they are carefully dressed and formally posed, their faces suggest a life of unrelieved hard work outside the studio. With an unself-consciousness impossible in our own day, the folks of Granger stare foursquare at the camera, buying themselves a little bit of immortality at a cheap price.

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