Recently, we came across a Blurb book that combines great photography and smart layout with painstaking research. The Fry Street Neighborhood 1977-1986, by Alec Williams and Leslie Couture is a compelling, atmospheric look back at a unique time and place, the late 70s and early 80s in a bohemian neighborhood in Denton, Texas. We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat with the author, Ms. Couture and the photographer, Mr. Williams.
Blurb: What made Fry Street – and Denton, Texas – special in this time period?
Alec: I think it was special because it really was a free spirited place. There was nothing you had to join, and no dotted line to sign on. That wasn’t always true of a lot of 1960s-1970s culture.
Leslie: The pictures are before my time, but I would say the laid back atmosphere, which was comprised of a mixture of students, locals, artists, musicians, and a few dogs.
Blurb: What inspired you to put these photos and stories into a printed book?
Alec: Leslie suggested it. I had been doing the photos for years, but I hadn’t thought of a book.
Leslie: Well, Alec, and his Fry Street collection. I had never appreciated the role a photographer had in history until I began scanning his photographs. The one thing I admire and appreciate about Alec is that not only did he take hundreds of photographs of an area that no longer exists, but he also saved all of his negatives and then he physically brought them to the library after we asked him to. That is huge.
After I’d scanned around 500 photographs, I realized there was enough content to tell a story. The book idea evolved because I wanted to make an “artifact,” that would be unique to our library and be of interest to the community. People come into the Special Collections Department with expectations of finding things that may not exist anywhere else. We do have those items, but the only way that happens is if people donate them, or we stumble upon something. I looked at all of those photographs and thought; why hasn’t someone already done something with this? And then I thought, why not us? An experiment you might say.
Blurb: Please describe your research process. Did you work closely together? Did you call in other people to help?
Leslie: I began with Alec’s descriptions. Whenever he brought in new film we would go through each pack and he would describe what was in it and I would write down the information. After going through the photographs, I did the research on my own, but I did use information from people who I contacted in making the book. A lot of the stuff was taken directly from conversations, or was written by that individual and edited for style. Alec, and several co-workers, helped edit the book; Kerol Harrod was the most helpful. Many people came in and looked through most of the photographs with me. That was very time consuming, but worthwhile because I was able to get some of their comments. I still have a lot of information that I did not use because there wasn’t space.
Blurb: What was the process of actually putting the book together like? Which tools did you use?
Leslie: I was a beginner at everything when it came to this project. I had just learned to scan things and we just purchased Photoshop Elements (which I would have to learn how to use). This was also my first time to use Blurb software, so I had to get used to it.
Scanning negatives is very different from scanning photographs. There were 35mm negatives and some odd sized ones that Alec had done himself that I would have to “find” on the glass. Many of the negatives were cut wrong and as a result (and me being a beginner) I had a hard time distinguishing just where one photo ended and the next began, especially on the nightclub shots. Then there were all of the discolored or dusty negatives…
I bugged one of my co-workers, Laura Douglas, who has a very good eye for design for advice constantly. In the end, the book still didn’t look polished, so I asked one of our volunteers, Erin Mazzei, who’s a professional photographer and teaches at Texas Woman’s University, to take a look at the layout. Erin went through the book and gave me tips, such as making sure the photos were uniform on both pages. I would show Alec each time there were major changes and he was usually very pleased.
Blurb: Leslie, did your library science training help you make this book?
I have worked in a library for twenty-one years now. I will say that working in the Special Collections Department of the Denton Public Library made me aware of the interest of the community in this subject and others. We do try to offer programs that might interest people on the history of Denton, or Denton County. I have done lots of exhibits and have some artistic abilities. Our resources make researching very easy and quite addictive.
Blurb: Alec, what catches your eye when you’re doing photography? How did you put together these shots? What was your purpose for these pictures?
I can’t tell you any specific thing that catches my eye. It’s just there. I had a camera slung over my shoulder, and rolls of film in the bag, so I did it. I did do a lot of drawing and painting as a kid, as well as look through a lot of issues of Life, National Geographic, Look, the Denton Record-Chronicle, etc. My original purpose was historical documentation. I have a BA and an MA in history (Texas Tech), and that had a lot to do with my point of view.
Blurb: Anything else you’d like to share? Can you point out your favorite photos and/or stories from the book?
Alec: I think that they are all my favorite photos (I took all but two). They are a part of my life at certain time, and the pictures are full of really nice people who were often kind to me, above and beyond the call of duty. As a parting thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get more people doing more books of this sort.
Leslie: I love the girl on cover riding the bike. I see her from time-to-time, but not on a bike. There is a crowd shot (p.140 bottom middle) in one of the Fry Street Fair photos that has a man’s handing holding up a bible in the crowd. I really wanted to interview one of the street preachers. I love all of the Pops Carter photos (he recently died). And I love the photo on the back cover. It’s hard to pick just one. I enjoyed interviewing Bill Craddock, Jimmy Lee Saurage of the Cartoons (I love his picture), and Melton Woodson (of EYCE) said, when he saw his picture, “Ooh, I looked good. No wonder the ladies liked me.” He still looks the same (almost). And Jeffrey Barnes of Brave Combo was looking at a picture that is not in the book and said, “That’s so-and-so. I let her borrow my purple cape for Halloween last year.” That kills me.