Cotton Museum, James Narramore work on historical photography project

dec. 24—”A picture is worth a thousand words” is an oft-repeated adage, but it can be especially true when it comes to connecting with history.

For this reason, the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum and longtime professional photographer James Narramore have been working together, cataloging thousands of photos he took over his nearly 70-year career.

Narramore, who graduated from East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) in 1954, worked as a photojournalist at the Greenville Evening Banner early in his career and later opened his own photography studio, where his work ranged from weddings and graduation photos to commercial shoots.

“I volunteer at the museum and I work in collections, and we have lots of photos, but for many of them we don’t have any information or context,” John Yznaga said. “What James lends, in addition to the photos, is a lot of context and background information.”

For the past several months, Yznaga has been scanning countless photos and visiting with Narramore to ask him questions about each one. He’s also been entering Narramore’s comments into the museum’s database along with the photos.

Of his days with the Greenville Evening Banner, Narramore often reminded people that Greenville had two newspapers at the time, with the other being the Greenville Morning Herald.

“When I was there, there was some stiff competition between the two local papers, so we were always rushing out to beat each other to get stories and photos,” Narramore said. “I actually took the first color photo to appear on the front page. It was of a red apple on a teacher’s desk for a back-to-school edition.”

Later, Narramore’s background in photojournalism and his family’s connections with the local business community (his father was a shoe/bootmaker and his brother owned a local clothing store) later led to him keeping busy doing commercial shoots for a variety of clients.

Included in the photos collected by the museum are those taken by Narramore for Williams Bit & Tool Co., Billy Cook Saddlery, Haggar Clothing, and a playful shot of a female model in a bathing suit sitting on a block of ice in a promotional photo for Texas Ice House.

In addition to his commercial photography, he has several photos of weddings, family celebrations, local events, and many that are simply candid shots of people in the middle of an everyday activity, like children enjoying ice cream and popsicles in the summer heat.

“There are probably about 2,000 photos from weddings, and then there are Christmases and Easters … and things like live Nativities and Sunday school productions that, along with what James can tell us about them, give us this enormous swath of everyday life in Greenville over the years,” Yznaga said.

Another thing that’s striking about Narramore’s photography throughout his career is how central his late wife, Grace, is in them — whether its decorating grand window displays in their photography studio or touching up photos (by hand, before Photoshop) — which gives a glimpse of how local businesses are often family affairs.

“She would go to great pains each season making sure the front window of the studio looked nice … and when they’d have their booth at the Hunt County Fair, she’d be there demonstrating to people how she touched up photos, ” said Jim Narramore, James’s son.

While staff at the museum are still deciding how to use the photos, Yznaga’s period of photo and information cataloging is drawing to a close.

“It’s been a fascinating walk through history, but my wife, Elaine, would be glad to have the clutter out of the way,” he said with a laugh.

Interestingly enough, the project is largely stemmed from Elaine already knowing James Narramore’s daughter-in-law, Carla.

“I knew that James had tons of photos of Greenville that he’d taken throughout his career, but I wasn’t sure how to approach him about looking through them,” John said. “That was until I went to Brookshire’s to make a donation to FISH and saw his daughter-in-law there, who my wife knew, so I talked to her about it and that was how this all got started.”

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