San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 14th, 2015
Behold: More stunning Texas Hill Country photos that resist description

Every year, the Austin-based Hill Country Alliance announces winners of its annual photo competition and every year the photos do not disappoint, especially when they depict natural wonders close to home.

Recent prize-winners include images of a standup paddleboarder on the San Marcos River; two young boys flinging themselves into the deeps of Jacob’s Well near Woodcreek; a foggy sunrise on Cypress Creek near Wimberley; and a lush canyon as seen from beneath the limestone grotto at Westcave Preserve near Dripping Springs.

While the photos can be breathtaking, the press releases that accompanying them are often frustrating.

On the one hand, they include insightful reflections from each photographer on the nature of their craft or on the intersection of their craft and nature. On the other hand, the photos are so reliably good, the writers of the accompanying press release are forced to reach for a dizzying array of adjectives in an effort to defy the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

We get “dazzling” photos, “bewitching” and surprising number of “ethereal” photos given the ephemeral characteristics of etherealism. Reference was once made to “cotton candy rows of a peach orchard in bloom that foretell of summer sweetness.”

And yet I can usually do no better when I set about writing an introduction for a gallery like this one. It takes extraordinary skill as a writer to illuminate the work of an extraordinary photographer. I usually just end up clicking listlessly through instead.

The Hill Country Alliance photo contest and its popular photo wall calendar attempt to bridge an even deeper disconnect, the one between the abstract (and often cynically hijacked) goal of environmental conservation with the very real consequences of failing too often to achieve that goal. The photos show us what we have to lose.

“Beyond the beauty and creative photography, we hope people will be inspired to hold on to the precious qualities of this region for future generations to enjoy,” executive director Christy Muse said. “Our familiar swimming holes and favorite vistas need protection, which is why we hope this calendar reaches as many people as possible to create an active citizenry and a conservation mindset.”

The 2015 grand prize winner is Hays County resident Rob Greebon who shot “Wildflowers at the End of the Storm” near Llano in a field of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes beneath a brilliant sky painted in similar colors.

A Dripping Springs Middle School guidance counselor, Greebon maintains a side business selling stock photos and fine art prints, often of rural landscapes and waterways but also including the skylines and other manmade landmarks of Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. He won the Hill Country Alliance’s grand prize in 2012 for a moonlit shot of Pedernales Falls State Park.

“I’ve always been amazed looking up in the night sky. I grew up in the country without much light pollution so from an early age I enjoyed stargazing – this is just an extension of my childhood dreaming,” Greebon said at the time.

Another nighttime photo in Greebon’s portfolio — one of a lantern-lit tent with the “ethereal” Milky Way galaxy overhead — served as an indelible endorsement of Dripping Spring’s successful application to become Texas’ first International Dark Sky Community in 2000. As a result of this designation, and the lighting ordinances that make it meaningful, a kid not yet born may be able to see stars from his backyard in Dripping Springs, long after every last one of them has been wiped from the heavens in San Marcos and elsewhere.

You can’t value something like that in terms of dollars — or words.

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