Cameron Smith

Coffee table book shows Texas football stadiums as "cultural ciphers"

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Last week, Texas high school football fans received the gift of customized license plates. This week's entry into the land of Texas high school memorabilia is a bit more chic and refined, at least in appearance.

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According to the San Antonio Express-News' Steve Bennett, one Austin photographer took photographs of high school stadia around the state, putting them together to form "Home Field: Texas High School Football Stadiums From Alice to Zephyr." The passion project from photographer Jeff Wilson is dedicated entirely to the structures that house Texas' burning obsession with football. The hardcover tome is listed at $39.99 but can be had for the bargain price of $28.76 right now at Amazon.com.

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Wilson says he was looking for something "simple and pure," in turning to high school stadiums, and his panorama approach to showing off Texas' empty concrete sports edifices does give one an odd feeling of serenity. Buzz Bissinger, the author of "Friday Night Lights," felt that the book stirred up provocative emotions. Here's what he wrote in the book's forward:

"As you look at them, the memories of what the Texas high school stadium means will go to your very roots, embedded forever in your soil."

As for what drove Wilson to document 57 of Texas' best football cathedrals, which he says he considers "cultural ciphers," he provided some interesting answers in an interview with the Express-News' Bennett:

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"The presence of football stadiums is one of those things in Texas towns that you can count on - even more than a Dairy Queen. I had never really taken note of how different they could be. I think most people think of them as just a set of metal bleachers, and sometimes that is true, but most of the time they are so full of character. They can really take on the spirit of a town. I don't fool myself into thinking they are the significant pieces of architecture, but their significance as a cultural cipher is undeniable." ...

"I did some research at the outset to make sure I understood the landscape. I wanted to make sure that there were important stadiums and historically significant programs included, but I really wanted a cross-section that would include completely obscure stadiums as well. I wanted it to be as diverse as possible along geographic, social, economic and aesthetic criteria. It's most interesting to me to show a stadium built by the WPA in 1934 next to a modern-day 10,000-seat palace, or an urban stadium surrounded by tall buildings next to a set of bleachers in a cow pasture.

I purposely shot the stadiums in the winter, because I liked the idea that the season was over and the stadiums looked worn and well used. It gives them a quiet solitude that we never really see in them. Usually it is all about the fanfare and excitement. The quiet moments can be really illuminating. I had a couple of the coaches remark to me that they took great comfort sitting in the empty stadium."

That's right, within two answers Wilson worked in references to a Dairy Queen, 10,000-seat high school stadiums and bleachers in a cow pasture. If Texas football fans weren't sold on his book immediately, that should win plenty more over.

Photos from Amazon.com.

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