The Big Bend area has always been one of the most alluring places in the South. On one highway, a trio of towns-Marfa, Alpine, and Marathon-show that untamed geography stirs an inspiring spirit.
“The landscape is like a relative now,” James tells me, lounging on a leather chair in his highway photo gallery. Window-size, silver gelatin prints of his “800,000-acre backyard,” as he calls Big Bend, hang in the serene, wood-planked room. James lights up when I ask about the vistas surrounding us, where the onetime Gage Hotel cook has spent 20 years documenting the region. “When I first go back, I usually start on old River Road,” he says about his journeys from Marathon into the rough country. He describes a flashing creek photographed by moonlight on a 30-minute exposure, much the way Ansel Adams shot Yosemite; floating through the Santa Elena Canyon; and how he hikes to spots by dusk so he can wake up there. “I could shoot this area forever.”