Much of the existing visual record of mid-20th century rural America is found in the archives of professional regional photographers. At their best, the images in these collections open a window on the world of private and public events that, taken together, shaped the United States as a cultural entity in the post-World War II era.
The region represented in Jimmie A. Dodd's work is South Texas, a sparsely populated region dominated during his time by the King Ranch, Inc., a vast cattle-raising and oil production enterprise, and the bustling urban port of Corpus Christi. While unique in many respects, South Texas was not isolated. Mechanization of agriculture, advances in transportation, urbanization, industrialization, and World War II all contributed to changes in the land and its people. From 1937 to 1966, Jimmie Dodd was there with his camera, and the 11,000 Dodd negatives now housed in The Center for American History show that he knew his job and did it well.
James Andrew Dodd was born in Houston, Texas on July 20, 1917 to Ellen Belle Horan and Earle Bartholomew Dodd. After graduating from high school, he worked as a mascot for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and began taking photographs as a hobby in 1935. He later became a professional photographer when he received a $250 loan from King Ranch president Robert Kleberg, Jr. to purchase a used Auto Graphlex camera. Mr. Kleberg allowed Jimmie to work off the loan by taking photographs at the King Ranch. As a friend and employee of the Klebergs, Dodd was able to meet and photograph famous visitors to the ranch, such as Nelson Rockefeller, Zachary Scott, Joan Crawford, and Jack Dempsey, among others. From the 1930's through the 1950's, he photographed the Kleberg family, King Ranch employees, and the daily activities of ranching life.
In addition to his work for the Klebergs and the King Ranch, Dodd ran a photographic studio in Kingsville, Texas, and documented the social, cultural, political, civic, and economic life of South Texas. Besides providing a steady income, his photographs appeared in local newspapers such as the Kingsville Alert, The Alice Daily Echo, and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. He captured images from the Texas City Disaster, the opening of Houston's Shamrock Hotel, PGA tour events in Texas, the Missouri Pacific Railroad of South Texas, and the Kingsville Naval Air Station. Dodd also worked as a photographer for the Kingsville Police Department, documenting crime scenes, automobile accidents, and the seamier side of life in a small Texas town. In the 1960's, Dodd limited the focus of his business to studio photography.
By all accounts, Jimmie Dodd was a friendly, humble man, who happily shared stories of his experiences as a photographer and encounters with the rich, powerful, and famous who were drawn to Kingsville by the King Ranch. He was only five feet tall, but his diminutive size endeared him to many of his subjects, and helped him squeeze through crowds of people and past other photographers. He expressed the greatest respect for the Kleberg family, and was close friends with many of his other subjects, including "blond bombshell" Jayne Mansfield and Paul Mix, son of cowboy movie star Tom Mix. He often photographed his own family, especially his niece Mary Virginia Gunter. Dodd never married, and his closest companion for many years was his Chihuahua, "Sarge." He moved to Kerrville in the early 1970's and continued working despite health problems. He died of heart failure on January 27, 1984, in Kerrville. He sold the Dodd Studio negatives to the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin in 1983.
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