Photo Essays

Put Texas Quail Rigs in the Whitney Biennial

Ford,Smith,Puesta del Sol,1973,Chevrolet ,Suburban,Walter Fondren,"The "" Vinegaroon"" was build and designed by Walter Founder in 1975. Stay on the Jones Ranch for 8 years and then moved down the Road to the Puesta del Sol. A party of old friends was given in 2000 for its 25th Anniversary.",
A. Lokey, photograph from ‘Texas Quail Rigs’ (all photographs by A. Lokey, used with permission)

There are no Texas quail rigs in the Whitney Biennial, but then again New York casts a long shadow of bullshit over American aesthetics, its credentialed scenesters busy strip-mining consumer culture to produce elaborate corporate pranks. Don’t spend the last days of empire playing irony hopscotch in a fetid urban hell. Burn Bushwick to the ground and head to Texas — not Austin, Texas; Texas, Texas — where, amid unparalleled natural beauty, one of this country’s great unsung folk art practices is thriving.

A. Lokey’s Texas Quail Rigs is a remarkable new photo book about open-air trucks and sedans modified to a singular purpose: the hunting of very small birds across great tracts of land with varying amounts of style and (mostly) overwhelming force. Though one might argue that overwhelming force is the American style, what distinguishes these quail rigs is the breadth of the forms they take. Laid bare in the expository magazine style with which Lokey composes his shots, the images inhabit an alluring yet tortured valley between Car and Driver and National Geographic.

And cars, indelibly linked as they are to the development of American geography, take on an entirely different identity as quail rigs, post-car vehicles fashioned alike from American classics, German military trucks, or icons of global luxury. Here they are remade as rough-hewn instruments of leisure harkening back to “democrat wagons,” the horse-drawn hunting perches favored on the “genteel” Southern plantations of yesteryear, as Henry Chappell writes in the book’s creepy but fastidious introduction. (Worth noting here is the small but active market for similarly modified vehicles for desert falconry that took off in the 1980s in the Arabian peninsula, including this custom model by renowned Italian designer Franco Sbarro.)

Houston-raised Lokey’s inclinations are just as precise, dutifully noting each vehicle’s owner, make and model, city and ranch, the builder behind the modification job, and an inventory of sundry details, e.g.:

Aluminum 6 compartment dog box, water tank, lower storage, couch and 2 captain chairs, headache rack with drink holder and shell storage, wide running boards, front steel platform with 2 swivel seats, dog box, 2 leather scabbards.

Is this the last honest art? The violence of the hunt, though unseemly to some animal-rights activists, is transparent, the rigs’s affect a mix of utility, ingenuity, and self-expression. And in a counterpoint to the activity’s aristocratic heritage outlined in the introduction, Lokey catalogues the ranch hands he encountered along the way in the book’s final pages, naming and thanking them next to a portrait of each.

Though the trucks are mostly shot in the brush or lightly posed from above, the surroundings sometimes offer incongruous clues. A trio of uncanny triangular sculptural works, an “art installation” attributed to El Tule Ranch manager Lavoyger Durham, is visible in one of the photographs. Searches for the artist’s name don’t bring up any traces of the usual self-promotional material. Durham’s only mention online appears to be a single citation in USA Today for building “water stations” on his land to help save those crossing over illegally from Mexico from dying of thirst.

He tells the reporter that he’s found 25 bodies on the ranch in the past 23 years. “I’m trying to expose the killing fields of Brooks County,” he says.

Sandra L. & Fausto,Yturria Jr.,Hacienda Yturria,1982,Rolls-Royce,Silver-Spur,John Anderson,"I wanted to honor my Deceased Father-In-Law, Shelby J. Longoria with what was his personal Rolls-Royce. He loved the Hunt, then the conversation! He would be thrilled if he could see it today!",

Fausto,Yturria Jr.,Hacienda Yturria,1973,Volkswagen,"""The Thing""",Brownsville Sheet Metal Company,"I bought the VW in 1973, for "" Quail Hunting"" and liked it so much that I ordered a second one for my Wife, who is a great shot! It was competitive to see which hunting car brought in the most Quail.", /Sandra L.,Yturria,Hacienda Yturria,1974,Volkswagen,"""The Thing""",Brownsville Sheet Metal Company,"I bought the VW in 1973, for "" Quail Hunting"" and liked it so much that I ordered a second one for my Wife, who is a great shot! It was competitive to see which hunting car brought in the most Quail.",

Liza & Jack,Lewis,Usener Ranch,1966,Buick,Wildcat,unknown - purchased originally form Mc Campbell Motors,,

Fausto,Yturria Jr.,Hacienda Yturria,2001,GMC,Denali,South Texas Outfitters,I wanted to have something that Gen. Rommel of Germany would have liked to have in this Campaign….Comfort and Storage capacity.,

Mr.,Holmes,San Chicago Camp on the Norias Division of the King Ranch,,Ford,F-350,,White truck I photographed with Gillmans, David ,Lucke,Laureles Division of the King Ranch,2007,Chevrolet ,Silverado,Texas Hunting Systems,, Scott,Carter,1st. Community Bank Lease,1976,Pinzgauer,,Luther Young,Fiberglass dog boxes and plastic gun scabbard 4x4, Ellen & Ed,Randall,YOLO Ranch,2004,Ford,F-350 Super Duty Lariat Crew-Cab,Zinsmeyer Mechanical & Welding,4x4, Tio,Kleberg,Santa Gertrudis Division of the King Ranch,1958,Checker,Yellow Cab,Joaquin Arredondo and Pedro Castañeda,"Car war built using a checker cab, instead scabbards were hand molded by Joaquin Arredondo at King Ranch. Under carriage today is an 7250- 4x4- all cabinet work, by Grey Coleman of Kingsville - 3 full pull drawers on left side with a picnic table bellow high seat, top and wind shield folds down.",

Texas Quail Rigs was released March 27 at Meredith Long & Company (2323 San Felipe, Houston) as part of FotoFest.

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