Colby Deal’s latest book promotes beauty, pride, and empowerment in Houston’s Third Ward

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“I want to provide positive representations of people of colour and people from under-resourced areas,” says Deal, who dedicates his practice to uplifting cultural representations of his community

Colby Deal’s debut book, Beautiful Still, resembles an old family album. Bound in a leathery burgundy cover, it is filled with intimate joyful moments shared between families and friends. The photographs are made in Houston’s Third Ward, a predominantly Black neighbourhood where Deal was born and raised. The photographer has been documenting his community with the intention to uplift cultural representations and depictions of communities of colour, which are often portrayed with negative connotations.

Deal is a firm believer in the transformative potential of photography. “People of colour and people from under-resourced communities are always shown negative images about themselves,” he said, in an interview with British Journal of Photography in August 2020. 

Some images are candid, while others are staged, often drawn from Deal’s own memories. The image of two men playing chess [above], for example, is based on the close relationship between his father and uncle, who would regularly play chess in the front garden. “That picture is like a poised memory… about how seeing this as a child affected my upbringing,” he explains. “But it also speaks about the struggles of living in America, raising a family, having to work, and having to think critically as you move ahead, like chess.”

© Colby Deal.
© Colby Deal.

Adopting a participatory approach, Deal’s process involves a lot of talking and walking. On a typical day, he will drag his large format camera on a wagon, stopping at people’s doorsteps and porches for a drink, smoke, and conversation, about their lives and the condition of their community. “I don’t want to call it a story because I sound like a fucking news reporter,” he laughs, “but what I’ll do is walk around, find things I like, and shoot around it”. 

Whether they are tender portraits of elderly residents, street scenes of children playing, or the “not-so-pretty stuff in between”, Deal is committed to capturing a true representation of his community. Among over 1,000 images – of which 153 are included in the book – there is a “grittier” side to the pride and joy that Deal promotes. “I’m showing you the gritty side, because I’m giving you from top to bottom,” he explains. “All of that makes this community beautiful – that’s the point.”

Beautiful Still by Colby Deal is published by MACK

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.