Overview: Preserving Neighborhood Moments in Houston, Texas | Photography

For the past few years, Colby Deal, 34, has been documenting in photographs the place where he grew up, the Third Ward neighborhood in Houston, Texas. The Third Ward has been a predominantly African-American area since the times of segregation. In recent years, parts of the neighborhood have undergone gentrification, excluding poorer residents. Deal’s photos are collected in a new book, beautiful, again. They are made on large format black and white film, the negatives a little rough and scratched, like fragments of amateur films of a place that disappears before his eyes.

Very often, as here, his camera sees this world through the eyes of a child, at street level, between the legs of an adult. These images seem to exist in a time before screens and iPhones. His family groups gather around tables or sit on the porch or meet under lampposts. His project saw him elected to the Magnum agency; at the time of his 2020 nomination, he described how the ongoing series was a kind of love letter to the recent past: “Traditions are fading away. Buildings are demolished. Families are forgotten and broken. The artwork serves as a memory of the original people who were there, who are now leaving, or who are pushed away.

In order to reflect this world to these families, Deal displays his images around the neighborhood, some the size of billboards. “I was tired of waiting for validation from galleries and museums,” he says. The effect of this process has been quietly profound, he believes. “In underfunded communities like Third Ward, they don’t feel like they belong, or they don’t feel like they should know or see beautiful art. I try to give a gift, you know, or a thank you, to those same people.

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