Book Review: Beautiful, Still. by Colby Deal
Third Ward is one of 4 wards that originally made up the city of Houston, Texas, in the 1800s. Historically, whites lived in the southern part of the Third Ward, while African Americans were economically segregated and lived north of the Third Ward. In the 1930s, the black and white populations of the Third Ward were nearly even. After World War II white residents moved to newly developed suburbs and the Third Ward became mostly African American. In the 1950s, large numbers of black migrants, many from Louisiana and some from East Texas and other areas of the Deep South, settled in the Third Ward. The community gradually became impoverished.
Around 1996 many artists began moving to the Third Ward and in 2000 the first sign of gentrification was observed (according to data from Texas Southern University). By 2017, gentrification had become apparent and more whites had gradually moved into the area, attracted by its proximity to popular Houston spots; the white population increased by 100% from 2007 to 2017 and the black population decreased by 10%.
Third Ward is an African-American residential area that has had its joy and pain, its ups and downs. It was inhabited by blacks and whites. It was an elite neighborhood, at the end of the 1800s, to even become a theater of racial segregation.
Colby Deal, who received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the University of Houston, has been a member of Magnum since 2020. He was born and lives in Third Ward. He believes in photography as a means capable of transforming representations through narration. As Garry Reece writes in the afterword of the book, “Beautiful, Still. is, in simple terms, a love letter.” A love letter through which Colby Deal intends to transform, elevate, the cultural representation of the neighborhood in which he lives and of the black community.
“I don’t want to call it a story because I sound like a fucking news reporter, but what I’ll do is walk around, find things I like, and shoot around it.” – Colby Deal
With his 4×5” camera, Deal began photographing the residents of Third Ward in 2013. Walking around the neighborhood, having a conversation, dragging his large format camera on a green wagon from one corner to another. Stopping in front of people’s doors and porches to drink, smoke and have conversations about their lives and the condition of their community. The culmination of these excursions is Beautiful, Still., a collection of over 1,000 black-and-white negatives of street photography and portraits.
“These photographs are an attempt at preserving cultural characteristics that are rapidly being erased due to gentrification and critical erasure.” – Colby Deal
Colby Deal’s first monograph is made up of interesting shots that work individually but find their strength in teamwork. A bit like the individuals who inhabit Third Ward find their strength in the community. These images are an attempt to maintain the integrity of the space they have reclaimed, visceral and existential. The book is a work of mapping the landscape through people and their stories, life stories. An act of preservation and testimony.
“They are part documentary, part portraiture, part snapshot and they flourish in that liminal space between individual and communal memory.” – Garry Reece
I took my time because this is a slow book. I wanted to have the patience to understand this project because, for a white European thousands of km away from certain social dynamics, the approach to this type of scene can be difficult to understand, metabolize. And when I managed to immerse myself in this part of American history, in many ways bleak, my stomach tightened and I was able to grasp how much beauty there is, still.
“Even though this neighborhood and community are viewed as ugly or something unpleasant, there’s still a bunch of beauty here to be seen.“ – Colby Deal
Memory is in no hurry, like history. Memory does not die, like history. Also thanks to works like this, to the contribution of authors such as Colby Deal.
by Colby Deal
Faux leather embossed hardcover
24 x 28 cm, 160 pages
€50 £40 $55
Publication date: June 2022
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