The names Carter and Trinity are both close to Fort Worth’s heart.
Eighty years after visionary Amon G. Carter Sr. first imagined the Trinity River as a $1 billion shipping barge canal, the museum that bears his name now reckons with its less glamorous fate.
A new photo exhibit by a nationally renowned landscape photographer, “Meet Me at the Trinity,” shows the river as loved but not always lovely.
On social media and in these pages, the exhibit is stirring thought and anguish over what the river is and is not, and if that might ever change.
“We are victims of an outta town arrogant and ignorant photographer,” one commenter wrote on Facebook.
He was not just any commenter. J.D. Granger is the executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority and the chief promoter of Panther Island.
But the riverfront fun he peddles at Panther Island is not the only story Chicago-based photographer Terry Evans found.
Nearly 70 and known in the Midwest for photos of her native Kansas prairies, she made five trips to Fort Worth to see what may be Texas’ most abused river.
Yet her 41 photos show how much the Trinity remains adored.
On her website, Evans describes how her heart sank at seeing levee channels instead of riverbanks, yet she found “a different kind of beauty” in the hundreds of people running, riding bikes, picnicking, playing and, yes, living on trails and under bridges.
Museum director Andrew Walker calls the exhibit “a celebration of the river and its connection to people.”
(It’s meant to pair with the Carter’s major fall exhibit, a collection of 19th-century Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham’s paintings of life along the Midwest’s great rivers.)
Evans’ photos praise us for embracing our river even in the least lovable conditions, either Texas heat or industrial blight.
They view the Trinity through a lens, but not a filter.
For every photo of a junky underpass or the sun-scorched Trinity Trails in midsummer, there is another of children playing at the Mayfest river festival or happy families tubing at Panther Island.
“What stunned her was how, even on the hottest summer day, so many people are drawn to the river,” said John Rohrbach, in his 20th year with the Carter and now the senior curator of what has become one of the nation’s largest photography collections.
“While it is not the romanticized Fort Worth that so many of us like to see, we’re proud of the show. We feel like it makes an important statement.”
It didn’t help that Star-Telegram art critic Gaile Robinson’s description of the river as “ugly,” “hideous” and “pitiful” and the photos as “bleak” appeared in some online formats without being labeled “opinion” or “review.”
No question his photos are prettier. But his work reminds me of the 1,000 or more 1950s and ’60s Fort Worth and Texas skylines and scenes sold as postcards by Fort Worth photographer John A. Stryker.
They are beautiful and colorful, and stunningly capture this city’s postwar life and culture.
But it was Stryker’s other work photographing the grit and grime of cowboys and rodeo that earned him a place in the Wittliff Collection museum at Texas State University in San Marcos.
Luenser, Granger and others helped launch a social-media firestorm, including several pages of often- intemperate complaints on Facebook, Star-Telegram.com and the museum’s own website.
Some of the comments attack Evans personally. Others claim psychic knowledge that the senior Carter would not have wanted the museum to exhibit anything but chamber of commerce photos.
If I know anything at all about Carter, I know that he stood for hospitality, an open door and a welcoming handshake for any guest visiting Fort Worth.
We don’t have glorious mountains or a breathtaking coastline. So instead, Carter taught Fort Worth to make sure every visitor remembers the stunning reception here and the warmth of Fort Worth’s people.
The online comments bashing a talented photographer and her thought-provoking view of the Trinity are unseemly, inhospitable and completely contrary to everything Carter stood for.
The exhibit is up through Jan. 25.