For as long as he can remember, Jay B. Sauceda wanted to learn how to fly. When he was a kid growing up in La Porte, Texas his family lived next-door to the municipal airport where he spent a lot of time out in the yard watching the small airplanes flying overhead. His lifelong fascination with flying led the Austin photographer to get his pilot’s license in 2014 and shortly after that he pitched Texas Monthly magazine with the idea of circumnavigating the entire perimeter of the largest state in the contiguous United States piloting a small plane and taking pictures as he flew over.
The resulting bird’s-eye portrait of Texas, made up of aerial photographs Sauceda shot with handheld cameras out the cockpit window and GoPros attached to the wings, was originally published in a special issue of Texas Monthly in 2015. Now a larger selection of the more than 44,000 photos he took on his journey have been published in A Mile Above Texas. The oversized coffee-table book, published by the University of Texas Press and designed by Pentagram Austin, presents the best of the photographer/pilot’s perspective-altering images.
The Pentagram team organized the photographs chronologically and in groupings corresponding to the order of the photographer’s journey. An infographic page that plots his flight path on a Texas map and includes weather data, flight statistics and notes begins each section. Sauceda broke the trip up into six legs: Victoria to San Marcos, San Marcos to Marshall, Marshall to Dalhart, Dalhart to El Paso, El Paso to Marfa, and Marfa to Mustang Beach. All together Sauceda flew 3,822 miles, over six days mostly by himself, in a borrowed, single-engine Cessna. Jordan Breal, Texas Monthly’s travel editor at the time, accompanied the photographer/pilot on the first leg of the trip so she could write about the experience for the magazine.
The layout of the 9.5” X 12.75” 200-page book presents Sauceda’s aerial photographs in both horizontal and vertical formats and is paced with large-scale full-bleed images and smaller image juxtapositions. Each photo caption, set in United Sans, provides a short title, the leg of the journey, the date, and an exact time-stamp of when the picture was snapped.
Sauceda marveled at the beauty of the natural–but also manmade, landscapes he viewed from a mile above his BIG, beloved state. He’s the founder and owner of a popular website called Texas Humor which encourages and celebrates the Lone Star state’s own particular brand of humor which includes an old joke referred to as the “Texas Brag.” The classic “Texas Brag Map,” which the Texas Humor site has adopted as its logo, is a map of the United States where an exaggerated state of Texas takes up a large portion of the country and all of the other “inferior” states are purposefully misspelled. So it’s only natural that Sauceda’s journey, a flight around the perimeter of Texas–around “his” world–was inspired by a book he read about Amelia Earhart’s bold attempt to fly around the globe.
Rick Bass said this about the book in Texas Monthly: “Jay B. Sauceda is creating a new kind of literature for the state, a visual literature that is as significant and powerful as John Grave’s Goodbye to a River, Robert Caro’s The Path to Power, Edna Ferber’s Giant, or T.R Fehrenbach’s Lone Star. His compositions accomplish what all great work does–offering a new way of seeing things so familiar that we have stopped seeing them.”
With fresh views of Texas’s beaches and rivers, woodlands and deserts, cities and farms, A Mile Above Texas offers an encompassing view of the state that perhaps only flyers and migratory birds have enjoyed before.
Pentagram will host a launch event for A Mile Above Texas this Friday, November 30th at the Hangar Lounge in downtown Austin and an exhibition of images from the book, called “Texas from Above,” will be on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin from January 1st to June 16th 2019.