DiverseWorks Presents Understanding Poverty
Exhibition of the “broke and the broken,” with photography by Ben Tecumseh DeSoto,
curated by Clint Willour, and words by Ann Walton Sieber
Editor’s Note: Athena writer Ann Walton Sieber is the project editor for this exhibit on Houston’s homeless. Excerpted from a DiverseWorks press release:
Making our way to work in the everyday stress and hubbub of a Houston Monday morning, we drive up to one of downtown’s busy intersections and see a homeless man holding a plaintive sign. We don’t know his name, but we know him from other days at the same intersection, his disheveled appearance familiar as he ritualistically waits at the crossing every day, hoping someone will give him some money for food or who knows what. As we pull up to the light, our eyes meet. But we quickly break away from his gaze and fixate on the traffic light. Or perhaps we keep his gaze, wondering, what is his story? The light turns green; we cross the intersection, the man a reflection in our rearview mirror.
After many years of documenting life on the streets of Houston, photographer Ben Tecumseh DeSoto seeks to tell the stories of the homeless and working poor, the “broke and the broken,” with his exhibit Understanding Poverty, which will kick off DiverseWorks 08-09 season with an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. Exhibit closes Saturday October 25, 2008.
“The streets of Houston have been a regular “beat” I worked with my camera,” says DeSoto, “and I want others to see what I’ve seen, and understand what I’ve come to understand, the role of the trauma in magnifying the drama of poverty.” DeSoto’s documentary work on poverty and homelessness dates back to 1980 and deepened with the 1988 encounter with two homeless individuals, Ben White and Judy Pruitt. While both were subjects of Houston Chronicle stories, DeSoto’s ongoing relationship with Ben and Judy allowed him to document their lives as they cycled in and out of the prison system, on and off the streets, through halfway houses, experiencing destitution, helplessness, desperation, hope, chaos, and starting all over again. The exhibition will include Ben and Judy’s stories, as well as a breadth of salon-style photographs interspersed with text drawn from interviews and the classics of “hard times” literature; college-style assemblages reflecting DeSoto’s populist “punk” aesthetic, one of his stylistic alter-egos; a light installation made from negatives (with artist Sarah Watley Ayers); and work-in-progress film shorts.
About Understanding Poverty Project
The Understanding Poverty is an ongoing collaboration of DeSoto with writer/editor Ann Walton Sieber in the role of project editor. Sieber’s contributions include field reporting, writing and conception of not only the exhibition text, but also the developing book and documentary film with DeSoto as first camera. The project has become a joint effort and collaborators include DiverseWorks, the Houston Endowment, Que Imaging, and others including the photography subjects, while showcasing the efforts of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission to End Chronic Homelessness, and the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, among others. Everyone is involved to help the public understand the underlying causes of homelessness and poverty. The “solutions” presented in the work may have implications for the nation’s housing, health, and economic issues facing the society at large.
For more information, visit diverseworks.org.