Can a Concrete Ditch Become an Urban River Playground?

Photographs of Fort Worth’s Trinity River Show a Transformed City Waterway

July 4, 2013

Woman and Child at Trinity River Celebration, July 4, 2013

Levee above Trinity River by Panther Island, July 4, 2013

Inner Tubes, 2013

Paddleboarding, Trinity River, July 25, 2013

Jazymyne holding Ariella, Mayfest, May 2, 2014

Near Trinity River, March 7, 2014

Riverfront Drive, Trinity River, May 2, 2014

Trinity River (aerial), March 6, 2014

Samuels Avenue, Marine Creek, West Fork, looking east, Trinity River, July 5, 2013

Kids Running, November 21, 2013

Chris, Rockwood Park at University, Trinity River, March 7, 2014

The Trinity River winds its way through the North Central and Coastal plains of Texas, threads through Fort Worth and Dallas, and skirts the Houston area before meeting the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the last 200 years, it’s served as everything from steamboat thoroughfare to pesticide dumping ground. More recently, it’s become a recreational haven. A new exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, “Meet Me at the Trinity: Photographs by Terry Evans,” explores the river’s latest incarnation and the ways it has become embedded in people’s lives.

Open Art Logo FINAL JPEG

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Trinity was used in the 19th century to transport goods via steamboat, including groceries, cotton, sugar, and cowhides. The rise of the railroads led to diminished traffic on the river, and through the 20th century, runoff from factories on the riverbank that contained pesticides and industrial and human waste led to contamination. Levees were added for flood control.

For many years, “the river was essentially a ditch people threw things into,” said John Rohrbach, a longtime Fort Worth resident and the curator of the exhibition. But about 45 years ago, a group of community leaders, spurred by a new environmental consciousness, began to focus on the long-neglected Trinity. Over time, with support from the city, the river was cleaned up. Bike and running paths hugged its banks. There is even a plan to carve a town lake out of a section of the river near downtown. It’s not dissimilar to what many imagine the L.A. River–which, like the Trinity, is cradled in parts by intimidating concrete embankments–could become.

Evans’ photographs show people in and near the river: picnicking, floating on inner tubes, running, paddleboarding, driving their cars over its bridges. What you don’t see are sunsets glinting off the skyscrapers downtown. One of Rohrbach’s favorite photos shows a homeless man with a furrowed brow and camouflage jacket finding quiet solace under a bridge.

Such choices have stirred some controversy. The museum picked Evans, who is based in Chicago, rather than a local photographer, to document the river.

“Art’s role is to challenge us to look at our world in fresh ways and this is one of the reasons we brought in someone from outside the community,” Rohrbach explained. “All we asked Terry Evans to do was visually reflect on the culture of the river in Fort Worth. The thing that is most resonant about the river for her is how the community has embraced it.”

Meet Me at the Trinity: Photographs by Terry Evans” is open through January 25.

*Photos by Terry Evans, courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art.
“Open Art” is an arts engagement project of Zócalo Public Square and the Getty.
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