Snapshots of Rice Rice photographers Tommy LaVergne and Jeff Fitlow take you behind the lens.

With over 50 years of collective experience, university photographers Tommy LaVergne (left) and Jeff Fitlow (right) have captured thousands of images documenting campus life at Rice. Their photos have immortalized once-in-a-lifetime moments such as a visit by the Dalai Lama and the turning of Willy's Statue, to everyday moments that capture the spirit of the Rice community. We asked Tommy and Jeff to share a sampling of these images — and the stories of how they came to be. Enjoy!

(Dec. 4, 2013) Some years we have great fall color, others ... not so much. 2013 was a spectacular year for color on the Rice campus. ~ Tommy
(Dec. 8, 2017) As a university photographer, there are just times when you know you must drag yourself out of bed and get to campus as early as possible. A rare snowfall is just one of those times. I was here before first light. Frozen fingers and a biting wind didn’t help matters, but the absolute beauty of snow in Houston, Texas, never gets old. ~ Tommy
(Richard Smalley, 1991) Richard Smalley was the coolest scientist I ever knew. He always gave me as much time as was reasonably needed. That is of course, once you finally got him scheduled. The first time I went to his lab, he asked me if I felt like “freaking out.” I really didn’t know what he had in mind, but I figured I should go ahead and give it a whirl. He took me into his laser lab. As far as I can remember, he had about four separate lasers set up with an open area in the middle. He told me to stand in the middle and not to move. He also told me to let him know when I had enough. Let me tell you, I had no clue what he was going to do. He turned all of the lights off, flipped on one laser at a time, then gradually turned them up. The noise alone was enough to make one crazy. There were green rays shooting in every direction and bouncing off mirrors, while one of his grad students blew liquid nitrogen around to make the scene more visible. The clicking noise was deafening. He told me to let him know if I felt faint or like I might vomit. I was already “freaking out” wondering what he was up to. At this point, I was a full blown lab rat. He had a flashlight and he would go to different parts of the lab and turn the light on under his chin. One moment he would be on my right, then in front, then back on the right, then on my left. He would also change the level of his head. It gave me the sensation that I was floating. Needless to say, I told him I had had enough. That's one of those memories you never forget. Just a boy with his toys. Oh, he and Bob Curl did happen to win a little award about six years later. ~ Tommy
Omaha: The ultimate destination for NCAA College Baseball. The 2003 National Championship was a year before we totally converted to digital format. As a result, the quality isn’t really what I wish it was. It will forever be the ultimate memory, the most exciting, the most emotional event for me. Even if we win another one, and I suspect we will some day, it’ll never be the FIRST ONE again! I remember not knowing which way to run. Should I look for Coach, or just rush the dog pile? ESPN had strict rules about still photographers rushing onto the field and ruining their TV view, so we had to stay back for awhile. It was a crazy night after we got back to the hotel. The party lasted until dawn. We had a pretty early flight the next day. When we saw the people who had gathered back at Reckling, there were no words to describe it. I guess you just had to be there. Many of you were. ~ Tommy
Omaha 2008: might have actually been a better team than 2003. Pitching, power and speed. Just ran into a better LSU team at that particular time. The CWS is the purest form of baseball. Every team is good. Every team has hitters. The equalizer is that these players are still young and there are a few mistakes that happen. Whoever makes the fewest will come out on top. So much emotion, so much fun! ~ Tommy
(May 13, 2018) I can’t imagine life without baseball, so I certainly can’t imagine my 31 plus years at Rice without college baseball. I wasn’t going to miss coach Graham’s last home game at Reckling Park. I took over 100 photos of him that day, but I felt this one summed it up best. His final home victory, and the long walk back to the clubhouse. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the stands. I know there wasn’t a dry eye behind my camera! ~ Tommy
(Nov. 8, 2013) I’ve had the great opportunity to be behind closed doors with some of the most powerful people in the world. I never take that for granted. Many times, I’m the only photographer there. I can’t say that I’ve walked away with the greatest images, but I have walked away with wonderful stories. I won’t go into that here, but I can say it’s great to be a fly on the wall! The James A. Baker Institute’s 20th anniversary with the Bush family was just one of many such opportunities. All I could think about was how close Mrs. Bush stayed to her husband that night. She never got more than 15 feet from him, and she was always watching out the corner of her eye. Great leaders always seem to have that certain swagger. Male or female, and even in a wheelchair, you can feel it. I thought about George W. and all of what he went through with 9/11 and how he marched up to that pitcher’s mound in Yankee Stadium and fired a fastball to open that game. I was proud to be in that room that particular night. ~ Tommy
In 1988, I had been working here for a year and was living in a very small garage apartment on North Boulevard. I would often get to campus early enough for first light in the main quad. I had been walking around shooting various angles when I noticed something different. I couldn’t really put my finger on it at first, but something just felt out of place, or something felt like it was missing. Then it hit me! Willy was looking at Fondren rather than Lovett! Most of the students heading to 8 a.m. class didn’t even notice. I shot this and ran over to Abercrombie where I had access to Dr. Bill Wilson’s darkroom. I developed the film, made a contact sheet and was rushing back to Allen Center. Man oh man, there were some serious looking university officials out there standing with their hands on their hips, others with clipboards and the few campus police we had back then were scratching their heads. Classic — will never be topped! Those whacky Rice kids and all of their JACKS! ~ Tommy
(Oct. 31, 2016) I have sometimes wondered what William Marsh Rice's sense of humor would have been like. I do know that since he’s been sitting in the Academic Quad, he’s worn many hats! ~ Tommy
Valhalla is one of the most unique spots on campus. I think that’s enough description! Anybody thirsty? ~ Tommy
My first official job at Rice was shooting the B.B. King Blues Festival. Tommy had been stung by yellowjackets and I was still applying for the job. He asked me to cover for him. He loaned me a lens, gave me a bag of film and a press pass. I actually met my wife that night after the concert. ~ Jeff
You never know what you will find coming and going from work. Sometimes, you have to stop and photograph a group of students running with a giant beach ball. ~ Jeff
(Brady Fitlow) As a photographer, taking your son to work as a model is priceless. This was from a feature in Rice Magazine on the Rice Farmers Market. ~ Jeff
I took this photo of the Carters at a Habitat for Humanity project where they worked alongside Rice students. This was later featured in a book. Watching them work was amazing. ~ Jeff
I love shooting portraits of people. This was a feature on Rice track coach Funmi Jimoh '07. ~ Jeff
Finding a new angle on commencement photos. ~ Jeff
(May 1, 2007) I have had the opportunity to listen to talks by some of the most high profile leaders and speakers. It was definitely a high point listening to and photographing His Holiness the Dalai Lama. ~ Jeff
Another thing I love to cover is Rice Outreach. Rice students were working with children in the Fifth Ward creating art for the community. I was focused on faces, but then I saw this graphic play on color. ~ Jeff
Night of the Iron Owl: I had a vague assignment about something going on at Tudor Fieldhouse. I walked in to this crazy weightlifting challenge. It was very cool with lots of great energy. ~ Jeff
Rice is an amazing community. I love being around students during important events and lending support. This photo is from a Black Lives Matter rally. ~ Jeff
A random conversation with the Rice Crew coaches led to a feature on the new boathouse on Buffalo Bayou. Students previously had to drive all the way to Conroe in the mornings for practice. I was happy that the feature was able to shed light on the situation and help them raise money for the new house. ~ Jeff

To see more of Tommy's and Jeff's excellent work, check out the Woodson Research Center's online archives where their photos are searchable by author. Also, the Rice photography corner webpage is a great place to see campus life documented by Tommy and Jeff. Do you have a favorite photo of Rice that best represents what the university means to you? Share it with your fellow Owls at the Rice alumni Facebook page.

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