Road Trip, Houston


Bob Sennhauser is working on a project about the people and buildings involved in the gentrification of Washington Avenue, here in Houston TX, where I am visiting with him and his wife, Kelly. Bob was one of my professors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a photographer, and an artist with a keen ear for a story.

Israel, April, Marrisa and Carlos in front of the 2007 Christmas decorations of their grandmother, Rosa Gutierrez
Israel, April, Marrisa and Carlos in front of the 2007 Christmas decorations of their grandmother, Rosa Gutierrez

Following on Studs Turkel’s assertion that “History is always written from the top down” Bob, like Studs, is writing history through the stories of the ordinary people experiencing the changes on Washington Avenue — business owners, homeless people, developers. Through interviews and photos Bob is preserving the activities, thoughts, and emotions of people who are almost always forgotten, who are at the tender mercies of the forces of “development” in a land where there is no zoning. The political slant is mine. Bob knows that he can succeed at this project only if he stays neutral and maintains the trust of the participants. His plan is to present images, and written and oral interviews so that the viewers can form their own opinions about what is happening here (and in poor communities all over the country where middle to higher income people are moving in).

Jose G. Martinez and Narcisco Riojas painting the Pearl Bar
Jose G. Martinez and Narcisco Riojas painting the Pearl Bar

He has already photo/documented every bit of real estate on both sides of the street from T. C. Jester to Houston Ave. The portraits show a trust that Bob and the participants share, a trust that has been built over time. These are not strangers. Bob encourages them to choose how and where they will present themselves. The oral interview consists of 6 questions with followups to gain clarification or additional information, but never to elicit a response that will support his personal bias. These are works of true collaboration.

New Town Homes at the east end of Washington on the old Southern Railroad freight yards
New Town Homes at the east end of Washington on the old Southern Railroad freight yards

I have found “history” — the list of presidents and wars and national boundaries — to be a subject not dear to my heart. But when you read something like Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror” you find the history of the real people and how they effect and are effected by the flow of the big events. In Bob Sennhouser’s project I think we will find Something Real and Fascinating.

Ken, Leonardo and Miguel pushing head stone with stencil into sand blasting room at Robbins Monuments
Ken, Leonardo and Miguel pushing head stone with stencil into sand blasting room at Robbins Monuments

The Lawndale Art Center in Houston will show the project “Washington Avenue: Forgotten then Gentrified”, May – June 2009

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