Photos of Houston’s Third Ward

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Image via “Beautiful, Still” published by MACK Books. (Colby trade)

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Colby Deal’s “Beautiful, Still,” (MACK, 2022) is about the people and communities of Houston’s 3rd Ward.This book is one of my favorites of the year so far

A lot of books I see, or books I see published, are more about the technique or process of photographers than about the people in the photos.

Deere’s book reverses this trend. In “Beautifl, Still,” Deal’s techniques or processes are an extension of people and communities, not the other way around.

In other words, Deal’s “Beautiful, Still” is an unabashed love letter to the people of Houston’s Third Ward. Now, that’s not to say the technology isn’t shown in the book. The photos are both classic and progressive in their aesthetics.

As I flipped through its pages, I was reminded of the works of some of the old masters (e.g. Gordon Parks, Eugen Atget, Walker Evens), but at the same time I felt a more modern, impressionistic loose, curved.

Sometimes Dill’s pictures are descriptive, many times they are purely emotional, and they are always filled with love and affection for the people and places they portray.

So, this is where Dill’s love letters collide with reality – they are not just emotionally resonant images of places he loves in his heart – they are records of a people and culture that will slowly but surely be read by the increasingly modern middle class The scourge of classification is erased.

It is said that time is advancing, but at what cost? Gentrification is everywhere, pushing people away from the spaces they have carved out for themselves, why give way? Luxury accommodation? chain industry? For the Aboriginal people of this place, it was an act of erasure, sometimes violent and always sad.

Here’s what Garry Reese has to say about all of this in the book’s postscript:

“These images are for maintenance space They claim to be visceral and existential. They reverberate at different home frequencies. They set their sights on the rhythms, vibes and musical patterns that make up a section of Black life in the Third Ward. Even though the spaces they inhabited have been broken up, hollowed out, and their black presence formed over generations, there is still a question somewhere there. Honestly, our history (because I’m black) doesn’t lend itself to a firm belief in the “American franchise.”So even if there is a history connected to the space, there is an obvious concern that something might happen that might drive them out of the land because ultimately, it is always about the land. Effective and practical thought from a man who has long been unaccustomed to controlling his own body, let alone the land. “

So, while Deal’s photos are a love letter, they’re also a lament. While they are a tribute to the emotional resonance of the people of the Third District, they also serve as an interrogation of the unfortunate reality that life tends to push aside anything that stands in the way of supposed progress.

It’s totally a variation on the old school game King of the Hill – an urge to get as much as you can for yourself, even always at the expense of others. As great as human nature is, there are always egocentric and destructive views – especially in a society that puts the individual above the community.

That’s how the bonds we may have eroded simply because we’re all human, isn’t it? However, as Dill’s book suggests, there is a beautiful current flowing beneath the surface. This may be a signal that the human spirit is perpetuated. Despite our attempts to suppress, the urge to survive and prosper will not be killed.

You can find out more about the book and buy it on the publisher’s website.

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