Kilgore College Rangerettes: Celebrating 80 Years – A Photographic Essay by O. Rufus Lovett

julianna.bruyere Exhibits, Past Exhibits

O. Rufus Lovett

March 13 - July 3, 2021

Opening: March 26, 2021

LMFA is proud to showcase East Texas’ very own Kilgore College Rangerettes, America’s first precision dance drill team. The exhibition features the photography and storytelling of fine art and editorial photographer O. Rufus Lovett and will be on display March 13-July 3, 2021.  Lovett’s “Kilgore Rangerettes” is an interpretative photo essay covering 30 years of his fascination with the glamour of the Rangerettes juxtaposed with the small-town football environment that includes more than 50 photographs.

Lovett began photographing the Rangerettes in the 1989-1990 school year during their 50th Anniversary.  The photographs were presented in several statewide exhibitions and a piece of the work was first published in Texas Monthly magazine in 1990 and soon was published nationally in American Photo magazine that same year.  Texas Monthly published 26 images of the work including the cover in the September, 2004 issue, “Small Town Stories”.  The University of Texas Press published the book of Lovett’s photographs, Kilgore Rangerettes, in 2006, with the preface written by Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt and an introduction by Katy Vine.

Opening

The Exhibit

THE RANGERETTE PROJECT

The path that led to my fascination with photographing the Rangerettes began decades ago, in the 1960s. It was in Alabama, as a boy, that I first saw a dance drill team, the Marching Ballerinas.
My dad was the photographer at Jacksonville State University, and as he filmed the football games atop the press box, I had the best seat in the stadium for viewing the halftime performances. It wasn’t until about a decade later, when I arrived in Texas to go to school, that I first heard of the Rangerettes.
A friend’s sister told me she was a “Wranglerette (a member of a drill team at a Houston high school), not to be confused with the famous Rangerettes.”

A few years later, as a photography student, I was studying Elliott Erwitt’s photographic style and wit. In my research I saw a picture of him that was made in Kilgore, Texas, with a group of Rangerettes. This was perhaps a sign (unrealized at the time). I joined the Kilgore College faculty in 1977 as the photography instructor and it wasn’t long after that I found myself atop another press box at football games, filming for the coaching staff and watching the halftime performances of the Rangerettes. During this period, each semester, I would share with my photography students Beauty Knows No Pain by Elliott Erwitt, a compelling documentary film that portrays the Rangerettes. I remember, on more than one occasion in my past, hearing graduate students from various universities, who were studying sociology and psychology, refer to this film about the Rangerettes, as it was used as a study in human behavior.

I spent about a decade filming these weekend small-town football extravaganzas, viewing Rangerette performances and reviewing the Erwitt film, more times than I can remember. Consequently, I felt bound to launch my photographic interest concerning the ‘Rettes. I retired from making the game films to allow myself time on the field to take pictures. It was not by design, but by chance, that I began this project on the Rangerettes’ fiftieth anniversary in 1989.

Precision, discipline, beauty, prestige, tradition – all are attributes that I have heard used to describe the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the nation’s first dance drill team. A classic cultural icon, the Rangerettes, in all their beauty, pageantry, and patriotic red, white, and blue uniforms, have met with several United States presidents, have been featured in hundreds of publications including Life, Newsweek, Esquire, and Texas Monthly, and have performed coast to coast in the United States and in eight foreign countries. Yet none of these achievements is what drew me to photograph their public performances and rehearsals.

I am intrigued by the glamour of the Rangerette performances juxtaposed with the small-town atmosphere, football turf, metal bleachers, chain-link fences, and asphalt and concrete environment. Also interesting is the sense that my human subjects are not transformed into portraits of personalities, but rather into still-life images of place. Because the Rangerettes appear as an ensemble, a loss of personal identity often occurs; the individuals become depictions of shapes, patterns, and designs.

The University of Texas Press published my book Kilgore Rangerettes in 2008. As I transitioned from film to digital imaging I continued to photograph the ‘Rettes intermittently on and off the field for several of their Revels’ program covers and dance concerts and other miscellaneous activities.

And finally, there is a certain timeless quality possessed by the Rangerettes – one that recalls the wonderment of my boyhood, and those many Saturday evenings with my dad atop the football stadium press box.

O. Rufus Lovett

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