Bill Wood’s Fort Worth

Thanks to a Facebook link by Rina Sherman for reminding me of the work of Bill Wood Jr (1913-73), a commercial photographer in Fort Worth Texas from 1937 to 1970 when he retired because of ill health. Most of the pictures in the collection that was bought by actress Diane Keaton, who has a great passion for photography, date from the 1950s on, when Fort Worth was a rapidly expanding city, and Wood provided the images that represented the new citizens as they wanted to be seen.

I don’t know how representative the book and show at the ICP in 2008 was of his work as a whole; a search in the ICP collection on his name brings up 348 objects, most of which are photographs by Wood, and most of which have an image on line. Although not all have a great interest, they are almost all carefully composed, straightforward images, clearly made for a particular purpose by a skilled craftsman.  He wasn’t a photographer who took a huge number of pictures, and only made photographs for his clients, usually taking only a single or small number of exposures. The 10,000 negatives in the collection that Keaton bought are mainly from the 1950s and 1960s, and represent only an average of 500 pictures for a year – less than many photographers now take in a day. Even in the days of film, when Winogrand went to make a very different view of Fort Worth, he probably took more pictures in a few weeks than Wood in a lifetime.

There are pictures here that could well be mistaken – seen out of context – for the work of one of the photographers of the ‘New Topographic’ school, many of whom worked in similar environments on the outskirts of other US cities. And sometimes reminders of images by other well-known post-war photographers who worked in America, though Wood’s viewpoint is a very different one from any of these photographers.

You can hear Keaton and fellow curator Marvin Heiferman talking about the work on a Studio 360 public radio broadcast from 2008, and there are a number of reviews of the show and book online, including one by Ken Johnson in the New York Times and Melanie McWhorter in Fraction Magazine. There is also an article in North Texas’s Art&Seek, which includes the Pontiac/Kleenex image mentioned in the radio discussion.

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