Bob Lilly’s Nature Photography,
Bob Lilly made a name for himself decades ago as an All-American football player at TCU and star defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. As the number one draft pick in 1961, Bob went on to be All-Pro 7 times, and played in 11 Pro Bowl games. His name was the first inscribed in the Ring of Honor above Texas Stadium. Bob Lilly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980. The Sporting News named him a member of the All-Century NFL Team and “the greatest defensive tackle in NFL history”. In January of 2006, ESPN produced a program featuring the All-Time 40-Man roster for the greatest Super Bowl team. Bob Lilly was selected as one of three defensive tackles, along with Randy White and Joe Green.
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Even at the height of his football career, however, Bob Lilly was beginning to learn an art form that would bring him fresh renown later in life. A year before joining the Dallas Cowboys, Lilly was selected for the Kodak Coaches’ All-America team. One award that was part of this honor was a 35mm camera and a year’s supply of film. Making immediate use of this gift, Lilly began taking photographs of people and places he encountered during his NFL career.
When he began traveling with the Dallas Cowboys, Bob Lilly took his camera with him wherever he went. Before and after games, he spent an increasing amount of time studying and photographing old sports stadiums. When he was not busy wreaking havoc in the opposing team’s backfield, Lilly was learning to appreciate the subtler lines of architectural forms and the interesting ways light and shadow played across them. He began to notice the more abstract effects of composition, paying greater attention to unique angles of certain structures, or the juxtaposition of one building with another. It was also during this time that Lilly began to focus on nostalgic themes, such as old street lanterns, closed fueling stations and railway yards.
After retiring from the NFL and moving to Waco, Texas, Bob Lilly’s photographic interests broadened to include other natural settings—particularly those cast in the light of a rising or setting sun. He was quickly drawn to scenes that recalled his childhood in Throckmorton, Texas. Rural themes such as old paint-chipped barns and churches, or windmills creaking in a sea of golden grass, appear consistently throughout Lilly’s work. Remembering family fishing trips to Pagosa Springs and Durango, Colorado in his early teenage years, Lilly began taking photographs of the mountains of this region—capturing mineshafts iced in snow, preserved alongside trout-filled, babbling streams.
Working his way West, Bob Lilly eventually encountered his favorite photographic settings — deserts and canyons. From the red rocks of the Four Corners region, to the towering buttes of Utah, it was in these dry and seemingly timeless areas that Lilly encountered some of the greatest photographic challenges of his life. Having refined his sense of natural lighting and atmospheric conditions to an exceptional degree, Lilly found himself waiting hours, days, or even years for the perfect shot. He returned to Monument Valley throughout the course of four years before finally capturing the exquisite “Moonrise at Monument Valley,” which demonstrates an unexpectedly rare phenomenon: the illumination of all three buttes beneath a full moon.
Similarly, the Slot Canyon photographs, snapped in Paige, Arizona, required careful planning and a condition of light that only exists four months out of the year—and even then, only hours or even minutes out of each day. Extensive research, careful study, and incredible patience are embedded in so many of Bob Lilly’s nature photographs, and serve as testaments to the craft of fine art photography.
Bob Lilly’s work was featured as a cover story in the June 2004 issue of Petersen’s Photographic. Some of his current projects include a multicolored geyser near Hind’s Peak and the Saguero cacti of Arizona. Check back often to this website for the latest selections in Bob Lilly’s fine art nature photography.