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Gone With the Lens

May 5, 2005

By Alan Hunt


To look at a portfolio of some of Chris Hansen's favorite Baylor photographs from the past 35 years, click here.


When it comes to juggling shutter speeds, apertures and lighting, Baylor has relied for the past 35 years on the skills of its chief photographer, Chris Hansen, director of photography for Baylor Public Relations. Now, after faithfully recording the pictorial history of the crown jewel of Baptist-affiliated universities, Hansen is retiring this month.

In a career spanning three-and-a-half decades of some of the most important events in Baylor's past, Hansen's work has covered the spectrum. He estimates he has used up as many as 36,000 rolls of film and worn out numerous cameras, lenses and flashes. Today, film largely has given way to digital photography and Hansen's photographic skills have readily embraced the new technology, providing near-instant high-quality pictures for Baylor's web site, publications and brochures.

Born and raised in Waco, Hansen went to school in South Waco, played basketball at University High School and joined the Waco Tribune-Herald in 1956 as a copy boy. He was promoted to police reporter and then weekend night city editor, later becoming night city editor for the newspaper's morning edition. While working at the newspaper, Hansen pursued studies at Baylor from 1956 until 1961 and later jumped at a chance to join the University's public relations department in 1969 as a writer and photographer.

His photographic responsibilities at Baylor grew quickly, covering the busy academic life of the University and its burgeoning athletic program. Hansen was on hand to record the events as Baylor took its teams to contests all over the nation, including the Bears' visits to the Cotton Bowl in 1975 and 1981 and other bowl games. A number of Hansen's sports action pictures have been published in prestigious magazines and newspapers, including Sports Illustrated, People and Dave Campbell's Texas Football, and his pictures have won major awards at various contests and exhibitions. In the photography department studios in the basement of Pat Neff Hall, Hansen has taken thousands of pictures of Baylor faculty, staff and administrators, students and athletic team members and personnel over the years.

Hansen has served during the tenure of three Baylor presidents -- Judge Abner V. McCall, Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds and Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr., and has photographed them on numerous occasions on- and off-campus. Similarly, he has taken pictures of countless Baylor alumni, including a few famous ones such as Watergate special prosecutor and Baylor law graduate Leon Jaworski and Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson. Other personalities photographed by Hansen during their visits to the Baylor campus include U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Secretary of State Colin Powell, evangelist Billy Graham, former First Lady Barbara Bush, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

A source of particular pride for Hansen is the number of talented student photographers who have worked with him over the years and gone on to become successful, award-winning photographers following graduation from Baylor. These include Carole Rylander, an independent consultant for nonprofit fundraising, Burt Tietje, a Louisiana photographer, Waco photographer Joe Griffin, who was Hansen's first student photographer, Tim Flanagan, a Salado photographer, and Jeff Bowles, recently retired as a lieutenant colonel after 21 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, the past three years as commander of Baylor's ROTC detachment. Cliff Cheney, who worked with Hansen for four years as a student photographer, later became his first full-time assistant and is now senior photographer for Baylor Public Relations.

Occasionally, Hansen's skills have been needed further afield, such as in 1971 and 1972 when he accompanied the Baylor Chapel Choir on trips to the Middle East, including Israel and Jordan. Hansen recalls the impressive scene in Bethlehem Square on Christmas Eve as Baylor singers performed at a choir festival. But he said he wasn't prepared for the excitement of the plane trip to Israel, which included an anxious moment as Syrian fighter planes forced the Baylor group's airliner down because of an alleged violation of Syrian airspace regulations.

"They sent up a couple of MiGs to escort us down to an airfield in Damascus," he said.

Ironically, the same thing happened on the return trip over Syrian airspace, and the Baylor group's plane was again escorted down. Hansen said the plane was forced to refuel at the Syrian airport, but authorities there refused to accept the crew's credit card for the fuel.

"The crew had to literally take up a collection among the passengers," Hansen said. "That bought just enough fuel to get us to Athens, Greece, and the credit card worked fine there for a complete refueling."

Hansen prepared a 30-minute film of the Baylor choir's first visit to Israel and took pictures of the group enjoying tea with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier and her grandsons in Tel Aviv. He also photographed the choir performing for King Hussein in Amman, Jordan.

Over the years, Hansen has covered many thousands of miles within the U.S. on various assignments for the University, including road trips to California, Florida and Colorado and to the interior of Mexico, where he photographed Baylor nursing students working among the poor.

In retirement, Hansen plans to continue taking photos, but they are destined only for his family album. He and his wife, Maxine, make regular visits to their married sons and grandchildren. Son Jeff, who is a Baylor graduate, and his wife, Luisa, and children, Chris, aged 17, and Alex, 12, make their home in Robinson, and son Greg, a University of Texas graduate, and his wife, Karen, and their two children, Hunter, 6, and Dylan, 2, live in Flower Mound.

Hansen said photography will remain a major hobby in retirement, followed closely by golfing, fishing and gardening.

"At times, I like to combine photography and gardening by taking close-up pictures of flowers and birds that share our garden," he said. "Of course, there may be time for a picture or two of the grandchildren, as well."

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