Breckenridge Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The past can be passed down in many different ways, through stories, murals and most of all, photographs. Basil Clemons was a photographer during the height of the Texas oil boom. Over the course of more than 40 years he photographed the rise and fall of oil production in Stephens and surrounding counties.
When oil production slowed Clemons stayed and continued to act a the towns resident photographer. From visiting circuses, and downtown development, to a young girls first communion Clemons photo archive numbers in the thousands effectively creating an accurate snapshot of life in Texas during that time.
Clemons was born in 1887 as the oldest of what would be 17 children. At the young age of 16 he left his families farm in Ridgway Texas in search of fulfillment. He found that fulfillment in photography which he learned when living in California. Just a few years later he would enlist in the U.S. military and be stationed at Fort Liscum in Alaska where he would witness and photograph the tail end of the Alaskan gold rush. During this time he also introduced many of the native population to film.
After serving in the military Clemons moved to San Francisco where he started his own Photography studio. Unfortunately the studio burned down while he was on a trip visiting family back in ridgeway.
Upon hearing of the loss of his studio Clemons made the move to Breckenridge to document the recent discovery of oil in the area. This would prove fruitful and resulted in many of his most famous photos to this day. It was during this time that he was approached by the Kodak Film company who was looking to buy his personal process for developing color photographs. According to his Nieces he told them they could figure it out for themselves in some “colorful language”.
Tragically the process for developing photos during that time often included tasting what we now know are toxic chemicals. It was for this reason that Clemons went blind in 1949 at the age of 62. This of course ended his Career. He continued life in Breckenridge until he passed away in 1964 at the age of 77.
An exhibition presenting 74 of Clemons photographs is currently on display at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany and can be viewed through January, 30th, 2021.