Our trip in texas
Susie Babchick, Ridley Scott Associates, RSA Photographic
When we landed at the Houston airport, it was a sunny day in April, the dreamiest time of year in Texas. Corinne, Vinca and I had flown ten hours from London and Rosemary Ferguson was meeting us there later that day. She was flying in from a shoot in Miami.
“It’s boiling hot!” both Corinne and Vinca said the minute we walked out of the air-conditioned baggage claim and out to the curb to get a taxi. I shook my head, “It’s 78 degrees Fahrenheit, ladies, this ain’t hot!” When Corinne asked if I wanted to drive her around Texas to take photographs I was so damned excited. We had been friends for about four years by then and had just started to work together. She liked my stories from Texas and decided it was high time to get over there and explore.
Corinne had talked about her friend and fellow photographer Vinca Petersen before but we had not yet met. Corinne loved Vinca’s photographs from her seriously long drives throughout Europe on the traveller scene, documenting all night raves and life on the road. Corinne had encouraged Vinca to keep developing as an artist and she liked to give her film and camera equipment to help her carry on taking photographs. She asked Vinca to come to Texas as she would be able to assist Corinne as a photographer on the road with the added bonus of being a beautiful character for the shoot itself.
I had never met Rosemary either. I wondered how a well-known model would deal with an extended series of long days of highway driving and cheap bunkhouses. Like I said, I didn’t know Rosemary. I was thrilled to discover that Rosie was so easy going, with a real sense of adventure. No demands, no hissy fits. Just rolling along like the best of travel companions.
That first night, we all stayed at the old Allen Parkway Inn which was perched along Buffalo Bayou, a river that flows east towards Downtown Houston. The plan was to hire a big old car and hit the highway — no itinerary, no plans, just going where the road would lead us. My friend, George Sacaris, a well-known Houston and Marfa architect reassured me that we really could find an old car that we could trust for the hundreds and hundreds of miles we planned to drive. I imagined us four women with a huge, unmovable, broken down Cadillac on a long stretch of barren highway with no help in sight.
Come to find out, ya just can’t hire old cars like that, you have to buy one — even worse! Which one could we trust? I didn’t sleep so well that night. George came over in the morning and said, “I snuck into the car lot last night with a flashlight and checked the engine on the car y’all like. It’s fine, it’ll be fine”. So, we went and bought the 1972 Buick Electra that was the favoured car. We headed for Austin, 160 miles northwest of Houston in the Texas Hill Country. That was the beginning — there were some special places that I really wanted to share with Corinne, Vinca and Rosie and along the way we had inside tips from old friends. Even back then, Austin was too civilised for Corinne. She said, “Get me out of the city”. My good friend Paul Johnson told us to head to Llano where Gary Smith, former manager of the band The Big Boys, had restored a small early 1900s hotel where Bonnie and Clyde had stayed.
There at the Dabbs Hotel was an upstairs ‘sleeping porch’ with four beds — the perfect hideaway. Gary made us cowboy coffee and fresh biscuits each morning and showed us around the Llano River and surrounding valleys and plains — old Comanche stomping ground. Gary is part Comanche and enjoyed channelling the wild frontier for us, complete with late night ghost stories and tales of mythological creatures. He told us of some off-the-beaten-path waterfalls, springs, lakes and campsites in Central and South Texas all of which we marked on our map and made it to.
A stop at the Guadalupe River was a must for me. Growing up in Texas, I had been there so many times canoeing, swimming, rafting and tubing. We hired a raft and paddles. I steered in the front, Vinca in the back. Corinne up front taking photographs, Vinca in the back taking photographs. Vinca’s photograph of me and Corinne at the front of the raft, facing the rapids is a great visual metaphor for our journey as friends and professionals. Always an adventure, sometimes choppy waters, mostly never tipping over.
On our travels, we got down as far as the border at the Rio Grande River, a natural divide for the United States and Mexico. We left the car in Del Rio and taxied into Ciudad Acuña. Local word has it now those border towns are not safe for travellers. Even then, we were warned not to stray past a very specific corner on the main street. We had made it a few miles into the town and at that corner we did stop. I just about had to drag Corinne back by her shirt to keep her out of the pool halls beyond the point of no return.
I don’t know how far she would have gone without someone there to stop her. An element of danger would tend to lure her near. I admired that bravado and fortunately eventually, we would usually navigate a balance. The trip was action-packed but there was a real sense of timelessness too. No watches, no phones, no laptops or TV screens. The light of the sky, the sound of the wind, the rivers, the highway. The pace of the bluebells blossoming and the cattle grazing. Entertained by jukeboxes, mariachi bands and folklore. We pretty much lived on a shoestring considering all that we were able to do and it was the richest of experiences.
Today, to revisit Vinca’s photographs of the trip is a revelation. It reveals yet another narrative point of view — an artist documenting an artist’s journey, thereby encapsulating the story itself. Corinne introduced Vinca to the book publisher Michael Mack. She knew that Michael would like Vinca’s work and that they would collaborate well together. Vinca’s personal travel documentation was published by Michael Mack through Steidl. The book is called ‘No System’.
Vinca Petersen, c.1996. Photo by Corinne Day