‘Faces of Houston’ on display
The World Cultures and Literatures Program held a photography presentation that exhibited the work of students in the Honors College Commons on Monday afternoon.
The exhibition was part of the “Urban Research Initiative,” which promotes dialogue between cultures.
This semester, the students photographed, researched and wrote about a wide range of cultures, including Japan, Mexico, Ecuador, Turkey, India, as well as Judaism.
Dr. Marie-Theresa Hernandez, director of the World Cultures and Literatures Program, instructs the class and is a photographer herself. In fact, she is a former UH student and studied photography with George Krause.
“The main idea of the class is for the students to choose a particular diasporic community in Houston,” Hernandez said. “(To) take pictures and write essays about what they learn.
“Sometimes its fairly easy for them to accomplish this; A number decide to focus on their own culture,” she said.
This year’s exhibition had two students undertaking this option. Others choose the culture of their significant other — for example one student photographed the community of her Turkish husband.
And the program is open to just about anything under the sun. Some decided to focus on groups outside of their own background.
Kristin Richie selected South Asia as the subject of her project. She said that she started by going to some stores in the Harwin district, and photographed and interviewed some of the shop clerks there. Her research also brought her to South Asian festivals and a temple, which she visited during a field trip.
Another student researched Japan, a result of her interest in anime. Her pictures are fascinating and include self-portraits of herself dressed in the costume of an anime figure.
Historically significant communities also received focus.
One presentation explored the lives of the people who were part of the Holocaust, with a particular focus on those who immigrated to Houston after WWII. Some of the people interviewed were the descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Contemporary times were also represented in a project. One student asked a fellow classmate if she could interview and photograph him. The student was born in Mexico and immigrated as a small boy. He served in the military during the recent Iraq war and is now a UH student. Her project has an additional dimension of military service and veteranhood.
The idea for the class was the brainchild of Hernandez, who relates that several things had to come together for the class to happen.
In the ’90s, she worked as a photographer in Houston, an endeavor that included a group showing at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Hernandez learned her craft as a student at UH while studying with former professor George Krause.
The idea took shape when she began graduate school at Rice. She wanted to do photography as part of her research.
“I ended up taking hundreds of photographs for my first and second book and was glad it happened this way,” she said. “I feel that art sometimes is better circulated in ways other than gallery exhibits.”
The idea incorporates well into WCL because the program has a strong visual component. This includes a number of classes on film as well.
“I think it’s really cool that these students are not part of the art department,” Hernandez said. “They are just regular students and they have this opportunity to show their work in this way.”