s dusk approached and the water remained still in the tank, he watched the bird swoop down to get a refreshing sip of water. The sun began to set and the common nighthawk flew away to satisfy his appetite.
Steven Chapman prepared his camera as the bird returned to the brim of the stock tank to get another drink of water. Besides the sound of the crickets and the brush being blown by the West Texas wind, you hear the sound of a camera shutter as a one-of-a-kind moment is captured.
A camera is this farmer’s tool of choice. The man behind the camera is a farmer by trade and a photographer by passion.
Where it All Began
As a student in a 1A high school, Chapman grew up playing every sport. He also had a passion for photography. His dad bought him a camera as a Christmas present which came in handy when he broke his arm at the end of his junior year playing basketball in offseason workouts. Although he was no longer able to participate in sports, he was able to take pictures for the yearbook.
His senior year approached and Chapman said he always knew he wanted to be a Red Raider. He graduated from Texas Tech University in 1985 with a degree in mechanized agriculture with an emphasis in agricultural economics. He said this degree allowed him to see the business aspect of agriculture and farming.
After college, Chapman ventured away from his roots and pursued a career in the hotel business. Almost ten years later, Chapman found his way back to Texas and began farming again.
“From the time when I started farming on my own, which was about 1994, farming was my whole life,” Chapman said.
Chapman, a fifth generation farmer and a fourth generation West Texas farmer runs his operation in his hometown of Lorenzo, Texas. His farming career has allowed him a connection with the Lorenzo Cooperative Gin Manager, Bill Shields.
Shields is a Texas Tech graduate with an agronomy degree. He has held the manager position for the last 14 years. Chapman was on the board of directors that hired Shields and since then they have had a long-standing close relationship.
“If there’s an avenue in a conversation that allows for him to refer to a picture that he has taken, he’s probably carrying around his iPad around and will show you,” Shields said. “He likes to show you what he’s done. He’s proud of it and he should be. I’m proud for him.”
From being around him for the last 14 years, Shields said Chapman is very detail-oriented, analytical and takes a lot of pride in what he does, which is part of what makes him a well-respected farmer in the Lorenzo community.
In addition to their cotton connection, Chapman has done some projects for the co-op allowing Shields to get familiar with his photography. The projects have ranged from honoring customers to showcasing the West Texas cotton industry.
Besides completing jobs for the co-op, Chapman has done work for Citibank and said he wants the opportunity for more commercial photography jobs.
“Probably one of my biggest accomplishments is that Citibank bought seven of my pictures,” Chapman said with a smile on his face. “They’re all black and white, and they’re all landscapes. They wanted local art and it was such a neat deal to be able to do that and get my photos up in a situation like that.”
As a self-taught photographer, he said his skills developed through trial and error. He said he was thankful to gain exposure from various styles of photography throughout his many years. A learning opportunity arose in 2015 when he was asked to shoot for Jarret Johnson, the publisher for Inside the Red Raiders. This opening allowed him to cover Texas Tech Athletics and revisit his childhood love for sports while progressing his photography.
“When you get someone like Steven Chapman who is so good at what he does, who captures the moment,” Johnson said excitedly, “that’s really what we’re talking about when it comes to the main objective of a photographer.”
Farmer, Photographer and Agriculture Advocate
Besides shooting sporting events, Chapman said he takes pride in using his passion to tell a story about agriculture in West Texas and to combat the negative misconceptions about farming.
“We hear about the negatives in agriculture every day,” Chapman said, “like how bad GMO crops are and how it’s not family farms, but it is out here. I’m out here trying to take care of the land the best I can, because if I’m not, the crops won’t produce, and I won’t make any money.”
Throughout the last couple of years, he said he has become quite the advocate and storyteller on his Facebook photography page, From Farm to Foto, Visions of a West Texas Farmer. His wife, Melinda, pushed him to start the page, but he said he never expected people to take interest in his photos. This page has become an outlet for him to showcase his work and document his adventures.
A Life-Saving Venture
Chapman has pursued photography off and on for the majority of his life, but he said his career in farming has always taken the front seat. He became really intent on farming, but after his dad died in 2009, he said the stress was almost too much. It was not until the stress in his life became overwhelming that he appreciated what photography did for him.
Chapman said having photography as an outlet allowed him to get the things in his life in focus. Besides thinking about the farm, he said there are only two things he has ever been able to do in the middle of a cotton field. The first is getting out of his tractor to take pictures of the wildlife or agriculture around him; and the other is praying.
“I’ve done it many a time,” Chapman said. “I get off the tractor, get on a knee and pray. But guess what? I can do both at the same time.”
He said doing those two activities simultaneously brings him comfort and clarity. He said his cotton fields are the perfect place for pictures because of the various creatures that call them home.
Chapman said he prefers photographing wildlife because of the uniqueness he can capture with every image. Chapman said he enjoys providing something new and different. He said the rewards seem higher because he invests more time trying to get those shots.
As he scrolled through some of his favorite images he recalled each story and retold them as if he had just taken the pictures. The story about the common nighthawk at the stock tank is one of his favorites. “I may not remember every piece of my life,” Chapman said, “but I can recollect the individual stories from every picture I have ever taken; I’m connected to them. I can only hope others connect with my pictures and stories, too.”