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‘I’m Just Trying to Photograph Life as I See It.’ Earlie Hudnall Jr. Has Spent More Than 40 Years Documenting Historically Black Neighborhoods in Houston

2 minute read

Long before George Floyd’s death, Earlie Hudnall Jr. was photographing the neighborhood where Floyd grew up. Houston’s Third Ward, like many Black enclaves, has suffered the long-term effects of systemic racism and inequity. But Hudnall, who has been documenting several historically Black neighborhoods in Houston for more than 40 years, does not focus on the hardships of poverty. Instead, his photos capture the everyday lives of residents, filled with moments of beauty and joy. “People need to know that you see things within what they call ‘the ghetto,’” says Hudnall. “It’s home where kids and people have to survive and live and coexist together.”

Hudnall’s earliest notion of photography’s importance came from sitting on the porch with his grandmother Bonnie Jean in Hattiesburg, Miss., looking through an album she had put together of the community. “That just stuck with me because it was a document that represented our history,” says Hudnall. “So much has been lost within the Black community from not being able to maintain its own history, from slavery up till now.” In 1968, after serving in Vietnam, he moved to Houston and studied at Texas Southern University, where he found a mentor in artist and professor John T. Biggers. “He always said, ‘Art is life,’” Hudnall says. “One must draw upon their personal experiences, family, community and what you’re all about. This has been my whole plight.”

Hudnall records for posterity the architecture of weathered shotgun houses and the vibrant lives within them. He depicts people at ease, celebrating holidays, dressed in their Sunday finery, and kids in the thrall of summertime. “These are the young Floyds coming up,” he says. “They need to be cared for and guided. Rather than holding up a sign and marching for a day or two, then forgetting about it, come here, talk to people, get to know them.”

June 19th (1987)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Head Close Cut (1990)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
The Wall (2020)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Bouncing Boys (1981). “The yard becomes an extension of the house when it’s hot out,” Earlie says. “In the inner city, people learn how to improvise to live and survive.”Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Mr. Shine (1988)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Hot Summer Days (2011). “Each day that I wake up, I’m just trying to photograph life as I see it,” Hudnall says. “You have to walk around and respect what is about to happen in front of the camera. It’s a sacred moment.”Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Gucci Brothers (1990)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
A Man Walking (2011)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Pettis of Houston (1981)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Lady in Black Hat With Feathers (1990)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Black Birds (2013)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Masquerade From Katrina (2005)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Sunday Morning 3rd Ward, Houston, TX (1997)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
The Guardian (1990)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Why? (2020)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Bennet's Barber Shop (1989)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Boy Eastern Star, 3rd Ward, Houston, TX (1984)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
My Thinking Time (1980)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Roots (1997)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
Girl With Flag (1991)Earlie Hudnall Jr.
All Kings Were Boys (1989). “I want my photos to remind people of something or someone familiar and identify with it in some way,” says Hudnall. “There is no greater gift.”Earlie Hudnall Jr.




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