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The Eye on Third Ward’

By Joe Starkey



Ray Carrington teaches Photography to kids who are 99% black. He teaches in a suit with tie and highly shined leather shoes. Teaching his students that it’s what is in your head that is important, he often gets down on the floor to photograph or just roll around. He then explains that {{more}} the suit and tie and shoes are a uniform needed to get you in the door but you can send them to the cleaner or even buy another. He tells them that for their first job, be 30 minutes early and stay 30 minutes late for at least the first year so everyone there knows they are serious about doing well in the job. Mr. Carrington firmly believes that his job is more teaching how to live well than teaching the art and fundamentals of photography.Where has this taken Ray and his students? It has taken them to national recognition for their photography project that documented the 3rd Ward of Houston for over 10 years. They were invited in 1995 to present an exhibition of their work at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts which is now an annual event. They are being featured in the Houston Photo Fest this March and will have an international exhibition later in the year. You can visit the 3rd ward of Houston thru Ray Carrington’s eyes at the Grace Museum until 18 February in the galleries on the second floor.Inspiration and life-long guidance for Mr. Carrington came from his tennis coach at Texas Southern. Herbert Provost also had a portrait and event photography business where Ray soon began helping out. First, however, came the expectation of high standards from Mr. Provost as a tennis coach where he taught every player to always exceed the standards and do what you are doing better than anyone else. They ran an unheard of nine miles a day for conditioning. They were never to present anything that was not excellent. Herbert Provost in the era before integration operated a studio that earned more than $250,000.00 per year. He did this based on excellence of work and the willingness to go on the road to the black schools of the time for three months running. He would photograph each child and send the film back to his wife for processing, printing and hand painting, come home for 2-3 weeks and then go back on the road to deliver the photographs and take more. Ray Carrington stated that Herbert would never have taken images like the street photography of his students because he came from the era where the black population had a great need to present themselves only in a manner which showed the best of themselves. He would have appreciated the quality of the images. Ray and his high school students go “walking” which means a 3 hour foot tour of the 3rd Ward from their high school to the Astrodome or other part of the 3rd Ward and back. Each photograph has to have a story of the neighborhood. The images are presented the following Monday and the good ones go on the wall as a 100 while the poor ones go in the trash as a zero. He teaches students the need to understand what the best is and what is not the best.His teaching reflects his belief that black children are very competitive about everything they do. “You have to have discipline for them to focus them on the task.” He likes to twist their minds getting their attention and then make them believe they can achieve high standards. “Kids must buy into what is important. It may seem racist but they should not have Hip Hop artists as heroes.”And now, a little about the show and 3rd Ward. 3rd Ward is a community in transition. It changed from a Jewish community to a black one and now the property in downtown Houston is too valuable for the blacks to continue to live there. Many of the homes shown are disappearing. The homes have changed from $30,000 single family homes to $280,000 condominiums. Ray Carrington believes that 3rd Ward will cease to exist except in photographs in perhaps five and not more than ten years. The signs have already been changed to “Mid Town”. The images in the show are the people and places of 3rd Ward. There is the “Waving Man” who walked four miles to the thruway to wave at people passing by in their cars because “it makes me feel good”. He didn’t want his photograph made because he “left his wife 15 years ago and she doesn’t know where I am.” But the photograph captures the joy of his waving while preserving his peace. “Girl on Fence” reminds Ray of himself when his older brother would walk him to the elementary school and leave him to walk on to the middle school. There was always the feeling of “why leave me here with all these people that I don’t know?”. He teaches his students to always get permission. Sometimes that’s just a nod of the head and sometimes requires getting to know the person just as when meeting a stranger and talking until you know each other. Asked if he would rather be known for his photography or for his teaching when he is gone – he stated he probably would rather be known for his teaching and the quality of the students’ lives after they left his classroom.The Grace Museum is open until 5 and until 8 PM on Thursday. The show is on the second floor thru February 18th.

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