HOLLY LAKE RANCH — Veteran photojournalist Gary Edwards, 73, has snapped three Olympics, 14 Super Bowls and eight Masters golf tournaments, earning a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1986 for capturing the gleeful grin of Jack Nicklaus winning his final Masters.
Throughout his more than 50-year career, the sports photographer enjoyed a front row seat to sizzling moments in sports history — Baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout and the 1976 Olympics, which essentially made 14-year-old gymnast Nadia Comaneci of Romania a household name.
Snippets of Edwards’ colorful career are on display in his home office at Holly Lake Ranch: giant photos adorn the walls; news memorabilia lines the shelves, including an Oct. 22, 1965 copy of Life Magazine, which includes a football photo that helped catapult his reputation as a fiercely competitive, creative shooter who possesses an eye for precision.
“You either pushed yourself to survive or you didn’t,” Edwards said with a grin. “A healthy dose of ego is always helpful.”
One might think the Canadian born globe trotter, who grew up in New York and traveled extensively in his days with the global newsgathering firm United Press International, might be a little bored in the piney woods of East Texas, but think again.
When the spirited Edwards is not perfecting his golf game and his heirloom tomatoes, he devotes time speaking to young people about the wonders of photography and documenting life around him for his website, easttexasreflections.com.
“I wanted to show the world a different side of Texas,” he said. “I wanted to show people around the country a different view a Texas, not just cowboys and horses, with the quality of National Geographic.”
Edwards, a naturalized United States citizen, started learning about photography in 1959 when he was in the U.S. Air Force, assuming the newly acquired knowledge might one day open doors to a career.
“I went to a pawn shop and bought a camera for $10,” he said. After one of his first photos — a cat in a tree — finished second in a base photography contest, Edwards was instantly hooked.
“My goal was to always take a better picture than everyone else,” he said. “I know it’s an ego thing. … It helps you push yourself to be better than what you could be.”
Edwards was passionate about photography, but it was his writing skills that eventually landed him a job with United Press International. He eventually transferred into the photography side of the news business, developing a thirst for capturing the best image.
A bureau job in Dallas that opened up in 1969 seemed to refine his skills and work ethic.
“If I became a good photographer, I did it in Dallas,” he said, recalling the “war” in sports reporting and photography that broke out between his company and The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times Herald and Associated Press.
“It didn’t matter if you shot for the Times Herald, the Morning News, AP or UPI, we were all in the mix together, every day, all day, and it was fun,” he said. “It drove each of us to become better at what we did. … Every day brought something new and exciting to our lives.”
Edwards learned to push the limits, gaining attention for using long lenses in situations where others would not. His lens of choice, then and today, is a whopping 600 mm, roughly the size of a large loaf of bread, which allows him to zoom in close and capture small details.
Along the way, he photographed the elite sports figures, such as a retired Mickey Mantle trying his hand at golf and Wilt Chamberlain battling with Bill Russell in the NBA finals, according to his website.
Edwards was eventually laid off, prompting him and wife, Debbie, a florist operator, to begin a new chapter in their lives. They moved to East Texas where Edwards spent the last 16 years freelancing and working in community journalism.
Mrs. Edwards said during 27 years of marriage, she enjoyed the adventures, citing attendance at Super Bowls, Masters and Final Fours. She’s been to breaking news assignments and helped write captions for her husband’s photos.
“It didn’t take long to find it (photojournalism) wasn’t all glamour,” she said. “It was interesting, never boring. I’ve met people I never would have met if he wasn’t in journalism.”
Edwards finally stopped punching a time clock last summer after logging more than 50 years in the news business, but his battle-scarred Nikon isn’t collecting dust.
Extra time is spent experimenting with nature photography and pushing the limits of creativity for his website. He’s still a manual focus guy, refusing to give into the ease of automatic focus.
“There’s still a better picture out there,” he said. “I just haven’t taken it yet.”