Saturday, March 18, 2023

Wandering the Fifth and Third Wards of Houston, Texas (TX 03)

This is the third of my irregular series on Houston and south Texas. 

The Wards were political subdivisions of the City ofHouston. The City officially abolished the Wards in 1915, but the terms remain to describe the approximate geographic districts of the city. People still say that they live or work in one of the wards.

Fifth Ward

The 5th ward was north and east of the city. It was formerly a working class district with laborers from the shipyards and the Houston Ship Canal. 

I had been photographing downtown and wandered into the 5th Ward sort of by accident. All of a sudden, I was in West Jackson again. I saw block after block of little wood shotgun shacks, some painted but many dirty, piles of trash, boxes, filth, and bedsteads on the curb, rows of grim brick subsidized housing, gutters/troughs full of ponded water, dangling wires, abandoned strip malls and corner stores with trash on the pavement, and some houses with big fences and "No Trespassing" emblazoned on big signs. The dudes were washing their bling cars with the protruding cones sticking out of the wheel hubs. How is this possible? Are we cursed forever with this economic/social blight, even in rich American cities? 

View of Houston business district to the southwest
West Street cottage near Tower 26 railroad junction
Brooks Street cottages

Several streets near the Tower 26 railroad junction had many abandoned houses. The backs faced the tracks. Maybe train traffic made them too noisy or dangerous.  

Update March 26, 2023: These little cottages have recently been demolished. The land is bare and freshly scraped. Tractors and trucks were parked near the site. 

2023 Semmes Street, former school but used by a recycling company (probably defunct)
Restored shotgun houses, 2208 Semmes Street

Third Ward

Third Ward is southeast of downtown within the 610 loop. It is east of the Texas Medical Center and easily accessibly by bicycle on the Brays Bayou Greenway Trail. According to Wikipedia, "The ward became the center of Houston's African-American community. Third Ward is nicknamed "The Tre""

Homan Street near the Columbia Tap Rail Trail
Church of the Living God, 2509 Burkett Street
Cormorant mural, Delano Street

As you can see, Houston is full of interesting subject matter. Stand by for more examples.

I took these photographs on Kodak Gold 200 film using my early-1950s Kodak Retina IIa camera with its 50mm ƒ/2 Xenon lens. The Gold 200 is rather grainy and I may not use it again. I miss the gorgeous Gold 100 from the early 2000s. The Retina has an accurate shutter and excellent coated lens; I have no issues with its optical quality. But I am having some trouble framing correctly through the rather squinty viewfinder. And the camera is a bit fiddly for my clumsy hands.


Jim Grey said...

That's some serious decay in the Fifth Ward.

The Retina line are all fiddly. The IIa has a positively luxurious viewfinder compared to the Ia. The Retina I still have is a IIc. I just don't shoot it all that much. said...

Stand by for more Fifth Ward in an upcoming article.

And I agree about the Retina. The Xenon lens is excellent, but it's a fiddly camera to use.

Anonymous said...

Age certainly does weary us. My eyesight is no longer what it used to be, and I thank all the gods in the universe for having given us autofocus...

In the good old days when I was young and life stretching out before me seemed eternal, I had a pair of Retina 1a cameras - probably THE most fiddly of the Retinas ever built - mine had the postwar coated Schneider-Kreuznach f/3.5s and had clearly seen better ays when I found them in a pawn shop in King's Cross, Sydney - this in 1974, so going on a half century ago, yes, how time flies! - and decided on impulse to buy them for a trip around Southeast Asia. Two bricks of 35mm film, one lot of Tri-X and one of Ektachrome, literally blew my pre-travel prep budget to shreds. The 1as came with one lens hood and one Kodak UV filter, which helped my finances. A Weston Master II I bought for AUD $20, and my kit was complete.

Those 1a cameras taught me a lot about photography, at least the basics thereof. At first I found them almost intolerably fiddly to use, and it took a little time for me to get used to the narrow viewpoint of those '50' lenses and the squinty viewfinders. In time I learned to make do with all this gear, and I found I even enjoyed working around the restrictions they imposed on me.

I photographed everything I saw - temples, rice fields, traditional dances, pretty Balinese girls learning classical dance at the royal court of Ubud, wood carvers, stone masons, farmers, duck herders, water buffalos, you name it.

In the '70s it was relatively easy to sell any half decent photography as stock, and this I did - enough to actually pay for most of my airfares around Asia. I traveled for three months and spent amazingly little money, excepting in Japan where ten days of swanning around cost me a quarter of my travel budget. Not once did the Retinas fail me, they always produced the most incredibly sharp images. Film was easy and cheap to buy as I went, also B&W processing Chinese photo studios where the owners 'souped' my Tri-X - usually in Dektol.

I kept the Retinas until 2012 when I cleaned out the house and gave a lot of photo gear to a local camera club.

Apologies for being so long-winded. the Retinas taught me a lot about how about basic photography, all of which has served me well over the years, so I remember them fondly with much appreciation. said...

Anonymous, thank you for your long comment. You did well with your two old-style Retinas. I hope you still have the negatives from that long-ago trip through SE Asia. You are right that simple cameras of this type teach you a lot about photography. The D "experts" go on and on about pixels, cheating on the ISO, bokeh, and what-not, but you can tell many of them know nothing about the basics.