Lynn Trafton writes about the HCP's first documentary awards, projects, and photographers.
The Houston Center for Photography awarded its first three fellowships of $1000 each last spring to Naomi Bullock, Martin Harris and Pamela Morris for their individual, ongoing documentary projects in Houston, about Houston.
Shown at the HCP in October and November, their projects reflect different aspects of the city's social problems, environment and ever-changing population.
"I approached the portfolios and samples of work in progress with a completely open mind," says Wendy Watriss, Houston-based photojournalist and writer who judged the entries. "I looked for different treatments of documentary ideas. Of great importance to me," she recalls, "was the desire to include documentaries different than the classical forerunners Dorothea Lange and Jacob Riis. I found a high quality of work and imagination in the majority of submitted projects, but I hoped for more entries and more socially concerned work," she says.
"Naomi Bullock's images have something to say about the character of downtown Houston," says Watriss. "They swirl you into the chaotic movement, the facial expressions of its inhabitants, the interdynamics of traffic, people and buildings. Her color photographs use a conceptual approach to a particular place - Houston." Bullock has studied with Peter Brown at Rice University and is enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Texas, Austin.
"I found Martin Harris' approach quite individualistic," Watriss says. "His particular use of color and large format gave a feeling of empathetic irony that is unusual in most of this kind of photographic work I see today. The pictures of his parent's home documents a certain kind of middle class surburban life style." His parents never appear in the photographs. The only clues to their personalities lie in the interiors of the rooms in which they live: rooms that reflect the state of transition most homes go through, bedrooms to sewing rooms, hobby rooms to guest rooms, rooms that contain the lives of a family. The personalities begin to show through their choice of building materials, furniture, and knickknacks used in different stages of life. Harris' reason for starting this project was to reveal the influences of his past and to make a statement on humans and their habitats. He is working toward a Masters degree in photography at the University of Texas, Austin.
"I found Pamela Morris' photographs of hospice care were emotionally strong and intimate about a subject that is difficult to photograph: the dying and death of someone who is not part of one's own family. I feel that some of these images are among the strongest I have seen on this subject. I wanted her to have the opportunity and the impetus to continue this work. In addition to the quality of the images themselves, my choice of Morris' photographs was influenced by my desire to include traditional black and white documentary work in this selection of fellowships."
In April 1984 the HCP will again award three $1000 fellowships for ongoing work. Call or write the HCP for details.