The big picture: preserving neighbourhood moments in Houston, Texas

For some years, Colby Deal, 34, has been documenting in photographs the place where he grew up, the Third Ward neighbourhood in Houston, Texas. The Third Ward has been a predominantly African American area since times of segregation. In recent years, parts of the neighbourhood have undergone gentrification, pricing poorer residents out. Deal’s pictures are collected in a new book, Beautiful, Still. They are made in large format black-and-white film, the negatives a little rough and scratched, like fragments of home movies from a place that is disappearing before his eyes.

Quite often, as here, his camera sees that world through a child’s eyes, at street level, among grown-up legs. These images appear to exist in a time before screens and iPhones mediated imagination. His family groups gather around tables or sit out on the front porch or meet under streetlights. His project has seen him elected to the Magnum agency; at the time of his nomination in 2020 he described how the ongoing series was a kind of love letter to the recent past: “Traditions are being erased. Buildings are being torn down. Families are being forgotten about and broken apart. The artwork serves as a memory of the original people that were there, that are leaving now or being pushed away.”

In order to reflect that world back to those families, Deal flyposts his images around the neighbourhood, some at billboard size. “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 under-resourced communities like Third Ward, they don’t feel like they belong, or they don’t feel like they should know about, or see, fine artwork. I’m trying to give a gift, you know, or a thank you, to those same people.”