by Margaret Culbertson
The black-and-white photography of Earlie Hudnall, university photographer for Texas Southern University and board member of the Houston Center for Photography, was displayed in one of the Project Row Houses, 2500 Holman, from April 21 to September 24, 1995. The small row house used for the exhibition formed a light-filled exhibit space conducive to a show of this size. It also contributed a certain poignancy, since such row houses would undoubtedly have been familiar to many of the people in the photographs.
The show consisted primarily of portraits in which Hudnall captured distinctive individuals within strung compositions and with lovingly preserved derails of skin, clothing, and surroundings. He included young and old subjects in both urban and rural environments. His documentary approach and attention to detail fits in thetradition of Walker Evans, although Hudnall's photographs are often lighter and contain more humor. Hudnall's deceptively simple, straightforward images are full of visual interest, joy, sorrow, and wisdom.
The photograph My Thinking Time demonstrates Hudnall’s use of strong compositional elements that are reinforced by details. In the photograph, an elderly woman is caught as she pauses, looking away from the camera, to contemplate a rose. She is dressed simply, with curlers in her hair, and she leans against the handle of a hoe. The woman's body and the handle of the hoe form a solidly-grounded, central triangle, while her projecting elbow and arm form another powerful triangular element. This compositional framework is complemented by striking details including the veins tin the woman's hand as it rests on her hip, the wisp of loose hair hanging by her ear, the angles of her curlers, and the rose that has caught her gaze. The title reinforces the impression that this is a restorative moment of peace in a busy, work-filled life.
Hudnall's photographs show a beauty that can emerge from difficult circumstances, but they do not ignore disquieting effects of poverty and social neglect. However, this was not a show with a strident political or social agenda. The photographs were rich with the variety and pleasures of humanity, and viewing the exhibition was a rewarding experience.
Margaret Culbertson is head of the William R. Jenkins Architecture and Art Library at the University of Houston.