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Texas barbecue lives forever in Austin photographer's book

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Labor Day may be over, but barbecue is a year-round venture in the slick, sumptuous pages of Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden (University of Texas Press, 2009). The Austin photographer's pictorial homage to fire, smoke and meat celebrates the ubiquitous barbecue culture in the Lone Star state, and these photographs just might make you want to jump into your car and drive like mad to see for yourself some of the places that McSpadden has captured so beautifully.

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The Amarillo-born McSpadden has been a photographer for 35 years, doing "primarily editorial and advertising photography," he says. He also did numerous assignments for Texas Monthly that took him straight into the heart of small town life in Central Texas -- "the barbecue epicenter of the world," he says.

Those countless trips and thousands of miles formed the basis for the book that McSpadden calls "a labor of love. I love to travel and I loved the places I went. I really like being in small towns. People are so friendly and the pace is so different. And of course I love barbecue, and I love photography. So there was no downside to this."

With a Foreword by novelist Jim Harrison and Afterword by food writer John Morthland, the book was designed by McSpadden's wife Nancy McMillen. They met while she was an associate art director at Texas Monthly. McSpadden describes the collaboration as "a great experience. She has a terrific eye and is a wonderful designer, so it was a great fun project to do together."

The book features evocative shots from LaGrange, Luling, Lockhart, Taylor, Mason, and more, featuring portraits of pitmasters, the meat, and always, the smoke and fire.

"I knew a lot of those places and had shot a number of them for different assignments," explains McSpadden. "The very first place I went and photographed anew was Prause's Meat Market in La Grange while was a wonderful place and family owned. A traditional meat market. I started there and just began to go through the list. I went to a lot of places I hadn't been to before and revisited a number of places and sort of shot them from a different perspective for the book."

The success of the book (rave reviews on amazon.com are keeping sales moving) hasn't changed McSpadden in the least. A self-described "true freelance, I'm happy and eager to work for anyone who will have me." The small towns he visits have certainly welcomed him. "I never went anyplace where people weren't happy to see me. All of us would love that. We all want to be welcomed wherever we go."

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For more information, wyattmcspadden.com

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