When I had the honor and privilege of being part of the UT Coaching staff, I was constantly brushing elbows with greatness. Every day in the Longhorn dining hall was a veritable stream of “Who’s Who” in the buffet line. Eating adjacent to future Longhorn legends like Cat Osterman, Ian Crocker, Justin Tucker, Destinee Hooker, Bianca Knight, Kevin Durant, and Vince Young (and the list goes on and on and on) was a daily reminder of the standards we set for ourselves and our student-athletes. I used to tell recruits that they could matriculate at other schools but very few had the commitment to excellence on and off the fields and courts as does Texas.
As if just being a part of a campus that boasted Olympic and professional athletes wasn’t enough, this greatness extends to the incredible faculty charged with educating generations of students that includes Nobel Laureates, Abel Prize winners, and Turing Award recipients. However, that’s not what is in the forefront of my thinking at the moment. I’m focused on the eyes of Texas behind the lens that documented all of this incredible greatness in athletics.
At the Stark, our archives are filled with unimaginable treasures, artifacts of strongmen and photographs of weightlifters and bodybuilders, beautiful books on Naturopathy and Alternative Medicine. But that’s not the extent of our collections, as we have become the repository for the UT Athletics Media Relations files. BUT, hold the phone, we recently received the lottery ticket of UT Athletics history. In our possession is the incredible collection of photographs that were taken and then organized by Susan and Jim Sigmon, documenting all of the Longhorn sports during their tenure, as well as photos and negatives from previous decades of teams. Among the collection are negatives both modern and vintage—we’re talking about some very fragile glass negative plates from the early 1900s. UT Longhorn history frozen in time.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about the folks behind these amazing photographs, as they meant a lot not just to UT, but to me personally. There was never a match during my coaching tenure that was played at the old Penick-Allison Tennis Stadium where either Jim or Susan Sigmon wasn’t in position to catch some great shots. Not only did they document history, they took all of it in and we always felt like they were part of the team.
Susan Allen Camp graduated in 1981 from UT with a B.A. in Journalism. She was named the staff photographer for UT Athletics from 1982-2010 and is responsible for the UT Athletics photography department becoming the model for intercollegiate athletics across the nation. In 1987, she was named the head of both men’s and women’s photo operations. She has won multiple awards for “Best in the Nation” and has been honored over 90 times by the College Sports Information Directors of America. Her photos have been published nationally and internationally in publications such as Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Sporting News, Glamour, and Vogue. She received The University of Texas “Excellence Award” in 1992 and was inducted into the UT Athletics Hall of Honor in 2013.
After acquiring the UT Athletics Photo Collection for the Stark archives, I have had the privilege and pleasure of sifting through the collection, along with two former UT athletes, Randy Little and Alysia (Little) Transou, who have graciously volunteered their time and patience to help inventory and organize on our shelves the hundreds of binders. Our alums are a father/daughter duo who wanted to give of their time to UT while spending time together and this was the perfect project for them, given their love of Longhorn athletics. Randy is a former UT baseball alum and Alysia is a former UT track and field alum. The collection encompasses hard copy photos, negatives, and slides for all of the UT sports and some sports have photos from the beginning of athletics teams on the UT campus in the late 1890s. The majority of the modern era photos were taken by Susan Allen Sigmon and her husband, Jim Sigmon, but the earlier photos left me wondering who would have taken them, as there are no notes and very few studio stamps on the photographs. That could have ended the trail but there are always breadcrumbs and clues hidden at the Stark.
While I was organizing another piece of the UT Athletics collection, I stumbled onto a “Longhorns Records” pamphlet from 1925 and one of the advertisements inside read, “The Elliotts, official photographers for the athletic department of the University of Texas for twenty-three years 1902-1925.” This was the first clue I’d seen regarding the early athletics photos. After researching further into the Elliotts, I was excited about the parallel stories of two remarkable couples who served as the official photographers for UT Athletics, separated by time but united in their passion for preserving the magic and history of the different sports.
In 1901, Martyn and Jane Elliott were both 30 when they moved to Austin and opened up their studio at 814 Congress Avenue. Remarkably, Jane, referred to as Jean or Jeannie on family documents, was a full partner in the business, a rarity for that era. “The Elliotts, Makers of Pictures,” landed exclusive contracts with the State of Texas’ legislature, the University of Texas Annual (The Cactus), and the University of Texas Athletics. They took wonderful team photos of the teams, including football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. The Elliotts stamp is embossed on the photographs, matting, or presentation folders displayed below, but many of the photos that were assuredly taken by the Elliotts in the UT Photo Collection have parted ways with their matting or folders, making it difficult to determine the true photographers of many of the early team photos.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, Martyn and Jane Elliott embarked on a photographic journey that would weave their photos into the very fabric of the UT Athletics history. From 1903 until the throes of the Great Depression, the Elliotts were the artistic eyes behind the lens, capturing the games, teams, and individual standouts of Longhorn sports, immortalizing moments that would echo through time. They were also responsible for photographing faculty, students, fraternities and sororities, as well as other events for the Cactus. Their daughter, Sarah Pelham Elliott, graduated in 1929 with a degree in stenography and, as many students during this time, probably had a fine class portrait made by her parents in their Congress Avenue studio. The Elliotts captured the images and spirit of many Longhorn teams and students during their nearly thirty year association with the University of Texas.
Fast forward to the 1980s and a new chapter in UT Athletics photography was written by Susan Allen Camp when she was hired by UT Women’s Athletics in 1982. She set about making delightfully creative posters and media guides, as well as shooting games and matches. When she was named the head of both men’s and women’s photo operations in 1987, she made her best hire ever, which turned out to be her future husband, Jim Sigmon, when the department expanded. Jim, also a UT grad, helped document the athletes and the sports and became the Assistant Athletics Director for New Media at UT. Susan and Jim worked side by side, almost every day for three decades and built the UT Athletics photography department into the model for intercollegiate athletics across the nation by capturing iconic moments in Longhorn sports history. Their unwavering dedication to capturing the essence of competition made the Sigmons an indispensable asset to the Longhorn community.
The University of Texas Athletics Photograph Collection is more than a collection of victories and defeats; it’s a tapestry woven with the threads of passion, dedication, and a love for the game. The photographers who have graced the sidelines, from Martyn and Jane Elliott to Susan and Jim Sigmon, have played an integral role in shaping and preserving the narrative of Longhorn sports. The parallels between the two couples extend beyond their roles as official photographers for UT Athletics as they found themselves immersed in the vibrant culture of Longhorn sports. Their work wasn’t merely a documentation of events; it was an expression of their love for the game, their university, and the athletes who donned the burnt orange.
As we look back on the decades that have passed, it’s clear the spirit of capturing the essence of UT Athletics has been a torch passed through the generations. In the world of sports, every breathtaking moment, triumphant victory, and heartbreaking defeat is etched into history through the lens of dedicated photographers. These photographers, separated by time but connected through their artistry and passion, have left an indelible mark on the history of the University of Texas and continue to inspire future generations of Longhorn athletes and fans alike and, we, at the Stark, are honored to be a part of preserving the history of Texas athletics through their marvelous photos.
Thank you to the UT Athletics Photo Collection and Jim and Susan Sigmon for providing these wonderful photographs, as well as Bowlers and High Collars for collecting biographical information on the Elliotts from the Sanders and Elliott Family Papers.