“The energy I receive is from light,” Wyman Meinzer said, award-winning photographer, author, and the official State Photographer of Texas. Meinzer first took an interest in photography around the age of 13. “I love great light, and even after 40-plus years of using a camera, light moves me greatly and energizes my creative store. I asked my mom for a camera, as she was always shooting photos of the family during those years. She gave me a Kodak Duaflex II, a 120-format, box-type camera with fixed aperture and shutter,” Meinzer said. “I carried the camera on horseback over the ranch, shooting images of silly things like our dogs, cattle, and horses. After about a year, I became disillusioned with the camera because it would not focus on close-up subjects as it seems my interest was in detail, even at that early age. Soon I put the camera away and continued directing my energies toward hunting and hiking in the badlands along the Brazos.”
Born and raised in Knox County, Texas, Meinzer was imbued from childhood with love for the land and the wild creatures that inhabited it. Meinzer’s father was the foreman on League Ranch, a 27,000-acre ranch in North Texas that bordered the Brazos River on the south. The introspective pace of ranch life, the daily exposure to vast tracts of open spaces, and abundant wildlife populations fed his interest in the hide-and-seek games of light over vistas and provided opportunities for him to study the habits of wildlife from an early age. “Because of my lifestyle,” Meinzer said, “which was molded even as a young boy out on the ranch in Knox County, I am fortunate in that I visualize the land in a way that most people will never see. When I create an image that excites me, I know it will also be of interest to many others who take time to view.”
As a student at Texas Tech University in 1972, Meinzer pursued his interest in the natural world with an academic focus on wildlife management. A professor, Darrell Ueckert, Ph.D., loaned him a 35mm Argus camera so Meinzer could document data for a research project on the dietary habits of coyotes. “It was at this point I developed a serious interest in photography because of my ability to focus tight for strong imagery,” he said. “After the research project was completed, I bought my own 35mm camera and began shooting various subjects and studying light and its influence on the final image.
“In the early years, I was fascinated by a couple or three photographers of older times, primarily due to subject selection and use of fine light. Ernst Haas, Eliot Porter, and the black-and-white work of Dorothea Lange from the Great Depression years,” Meinzer said of his artistic influences.
Meinzer graduated from Texas Tech in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree, but his desire to photograph natural scenes and closeup encounters with the wildlife of Texas had been ignited into a passion. “In the late 1970s, my main interest was to be published, to be a consistent contributor to great outdoor magazines across the nation,” he said. “That goal was achieved by the mid-1980s when Sports Afield magazine listed five photographers in America whom they named The New Breed. I was lucky enough to be one of them. A most respected New York art director once told me that I had a great eye for light and angle. Thus, the early years were a time of training as I roamed the big land along the Brazos, engaging my fascination with all life as well as light.”
Meinzer’s work would eventually be recognized through awards and achievements that would surpass the heartfelt fantasies of most aspiring photographers. Roadrunner, Meinzer’s photographic and written description that follows the activities of specific individual bird families, was published in 1993. The book was the result of Meinzer’s years of observation and research into the quirky birds’ habits. Roadrunner was awarded the San Antonio Conservation Award for its success in bringing the natural history of the roadrunner to life through detailed photography and humorous commentary.
Meinzer’s collaborative book, Texas Lost: Vanishing Heritage, written along with Andrew Sansom, was published in 1995. The book won the National Literary Award. Meinzer was voted official State Photographer of Texas by the 75th Texas State Legislature. He served as an adjunct instructor in communications at Texas Tech for twelve years, where he was named Agricultural Communications Teacher of the Year in 2005. From 2000 to 2002, Meinzer served on the Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management advisory board at Texas Tech, and in 2009 he was chosen to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Texas Tech, recognizing his dedicated service to his alma mater.
Field & Stream magazine chose Meinzer as one of America’s Outdoor Legends in 2018. His photographs hang in perpetuity at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum as well as in the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Many other awards and honors lie behind Meinzer, but his focus is still on doing what he loves best: bringing the natural wonders of Texas to life in print. “I’ve published some 27 books, two of which I have both authored and photographed, and the others shared with great writers such as the late John Graves, Henry Chappell, the late Ray Sasser, Walter McDonald, and others,” he said. “Although now toting 69 years of life on my shoulders, great light and adventure feed my energy level. These two points will continue to drive my love of photography until the end.
“Perhaps the most enlightening book that I had the honor of helping create, sharing with the late, great John Graves, was Texas Rivers. In three years of travel along the banks of six Texas rivers, I logged some 36,000 miles photographing the land and people who inhabit the country defining these rivers systems.
“When I am involved in a photo endeavor, it is my favorite at the time. […] I loved working on the way of life of the roadrunner, spending almost fourteen years photographing the natural history of this cuckoo bird. Because of my formative years being raised on a working ranch, I have thoroughly enjoyed completing the books with author Henry Chappell on ranches such as the 6666, Waggoner, Wagonhound [Land and Livestock], and San Antonio Viejo of South Texas. Also, one must remember that I cut my teeth on photographing wildlife and the natural history thereof. So, I still love documenting the life of various species indigenous to Texas, such as whitetail and predators. Another book that was a joy to create was Texas Sky, with The University of Texas Press. Remember, it is light that ignites my soul, and from the sky, there is great light.”