Photography As A Medium: The Houston Center For Photography

Photography As A Medium: The Houston Center For Photography
Tony Reid

Houston ranks as the fourth most populated city in the United States with more than 2.3 million residents. This intriguing Texan city is ethnically diverse and multicultural. Known for its famous NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston also has become a leader in the oil and gas industry, medical research and healthcare sector, high-tech and financial services, and performing arts organizations — symphony, ballet, opera, and theatre — as well as numerous museums and galleries. Among them is the Houston Center for Photography, which initially began as a small organization for local visual artists. It has developed today into an exemplary fine art center showcasing exhibition galleries, offering photography classes and workshops, and hosting community events. 

HCP’s mission focuses on a desire to develop within the community an appreciation and understanding of photography and to anchor the importance of photography as an artistic medium in contemporary culture. The Center strives to encourage dialogue and collaboration between artists and audiences. It is the only photography organization in the South and Southwest region with a salaried staff and year-round programs. The financials show an annual budget of $900,000.

Overview

HCP was established in 1981 as cooperative group governed by founding members, and it became a non-profit corporation the following year. The Center is currently supported by annual membership fees, foundation and government grants, workshop and class tuition, and sales from the magazine and other publications. It has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Arts Alliance, the Houston Endowment, the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the United Kids’ Way, and the Wortham Foundation. 

The Center employs 12 full-time staff members, as well as hundreds of volunteers and a select group of interns each academic semester. The governing board of directors is composed of 24 members including professional photographers, gallery owners, educators, lawyers and physicians; an additional 30 individuals sit on the advisory council. The 1,500 square-foot Learning Center opened in 2006 and enhanced the Center’s three gallery spaces, photography library, and film/video screening theater.

A noted founding member and current Advisory Council member, the photographer Peter Brown remarked,

“We have shown work from some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and we have shown the work of many emerging photographers who have gone on to great artistic success. And we have had show after show of cutting edge work that has helped to define the state of photography, both regionally and nationally. We teach, we put out a great magazine called SPOT, we show work at HCP and elsewhere, and we are still a center for the photographic life in Houston.”

Calendar of Events

Members of the Houston Center for Photography enjoy many different events throughout the year. Capture Crawls occur monthly and allow groups of photographers to visit an area or venue that is not normally open to public photographers. Critique Groups allow amateur photographers to meet with professional photographers to receive feedback and suggestions for improvement. Member Trips are a wonderful way to visit another country and benefit from a curated tour with an expert photographer as the group leader. A recent tour of HCP members spent time in Mexico City visiting galleries and meeting photographers.

Classes and Workshops

HCP offers more than 300 classes and workshops each year, meeting during daytimes, evenings, and weekends. The Learning Center publishes the Educational Calendar three times a year with descriptions of courses in both film and digital photography targeted to all levels, from novice to expert, as well as youth programs and master classes. You may view the current classes and events on the website by filtering for a specific day of the week or category of classes and workshops, special events, and exhibitions. 

The Fall trimester covers September-December, and the course offerings are announced in August. The Spring trimester covers January-April, and registration begins in November. The Summer trimester covers May-August, and the descriptions are published in April. HCP members may register early, and they receive a membership discount to all classes and workshops.

HCP employs 14 instructors who teach various levels of classes and workshops each trimester. The biography of each photographer is here.

Introductory classes focus on the foundation of camera photography with lessons in basic camera parts, framing shots, and printing photos. Teachers introduce aperture, shutter speed, and Photoshop. Intermediate classes take students to the next level. The special topics classes offer a variety of specific subjects and techniques. Master classes are taught by renowned experts in the field. Popular course titles include:

Introductory

  • Before You Buy: Planning Your Photographic Purchase
  • Cleaning Up Your Mess: A Lightroom File Management Workshop
  • Composition I: From Good to Great
  • How to Secure Your Files and Live Happily Ever After
  • Introduction to Photoshop Elements
  • Introduction to the Moving Image
  • Lightroom I: From Import to Image Perfection
  • Out of the Box: Using Your Digital Camera
  • Photography I: Learning the Basics
  • Printing Your Photographs I: The Basics
  • The Camera, The Negative, The Print: Film Photography
  • Using Your Flash

Intermediate

  • Black & White Photography in the Digital Age
  • Composition II: Finding Your Vision
  • Light Meters & the Lies They Tell You
  • Lighting Techniques in Photography
  • Lightroom II: Sharing Your Photographs
  • Natural Light Portraiture
  • Photographing Families
  • Photography II: Beyond the Basics
  • Photoshop I: Getting Started
  • Photoshop II: Working With Layers
  • Presenting Your Work: Getting Your Work Out There
  • Presenting Your Work: Matting Your Photographs
  • Printing Your Photographs II: Getting the Color Right
  • Studio Lighting: Still Life & Product Photography
  • Studio Portraiture: Lights, Background, and Pose

Special Topics

  • After Dark: Night Photography
  • Alternative Printing: Wet Plate Collodion
  • Architecture Photography: Shooting Space
  • Bird & Wildlife Photography
  • Bodies: Celebrating the Human Figure
  • Building a Studio on a Budget
  • Building Your Photo Website
  • Close Up: Macro Photography
  • Drone Photography
  • Food Photography
  • Going Digital: Scanning Your Images
  • Landscape Photography
  • Photography and Social Engagement
  • Photography III: Hacking Your Camera
  • Photoshop: The Magic of Retouching
  • Printing Your Photographs III: Fine-Tuning & Experimenting with Inkjet Printing
  • Processing Multiple Images: Creating HDR & Panoramic Images
  • Sports Photography — Cycling: An Explosion of Velocity and Color
  • Tackling Event Photography
  • The Making of a Portrait: Advanced Portraiture
  • Think BIG and Print LARGE
  • Travel Photography: The World Through Your Lens

Exhibitions

During the past four decades, HCP has shown exhibitions of renowned international photographers from the 20th and 21st centuries. It has supported the work of emerging photographers on their journey to become professional photographers. HCP assembles 10-15 exhibitions each year. Interested artists, writers, and curators may contact the Center to become involved with the exhibition program. There are three annual calls for entry into exhibitions: Juried Membership Exhibitions, Annual Fellowship Awards, and the Learning Curve. Links to recent exhibitions may be found on the website. The Center exhibits is committed to mounting exhibitions of photographs in a professional manner, but it does not maintain a permanent collection itself.

Community Connections

The Houston Center for Photography believes in the importance of lifelong learning and education. It strives to connect people within the community through its programs.

Picture This! is a five-module youth education program, which is taught at schools and community centers across Houston. Flash Drive is a converted ambulance that visits neighborhoods across the city and extends the community education programs to a wider audience. Family Days occur twice a year at HCP and focus on making photography fun and enjoyable for people of all ages. Collaborations is a 10-week program that brings together 20 high-school students for lessons in photography and presentation. The course ends with a professional exhibition of the students’ work. Many students have used their work from this program in their college applications. Girls’ Own Stories allows girls ages 8-13 to express themselves by addressing areas important to them, such as self-esteem and body image.

Publications

The award-winning SPOT magazine is published twice a year in the spring and fall. It features articles about photography and photo-based art exhibitions locally within Texas, nationally across the United States and internationally to great centers of photography worldwide. All individual and corporate members receive copies. The readership of this journal reaches more than 5,500 people.

Member Benefits

There are six individual and family membership levels as well as three levels of corporate sponsorship opportunities. Basic Member Benefits ($55) include invitations to exhibition openings and special events, discount on classes and workshops, and subscription to the HCP magazine and e-newsletter. At the higher levels of membership ($500-2,500), benefactors receive invitations to receptions and lectures with artists, as well as recognition of their support in the catalogues and press releases for the exhibitions.

Corporate sponsorship ($2,500-10,000) offers complimentary advertisements in the magazine and company logos on the website, private access to exhibitions and gallery receptions, and prominent placement on the Supporter Wall.

Location

HCP is located at 1441 West Alabama in the core of Houston’s Museum District blocks from the nearby Menil Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Cullen Sculpture Garden, Museum of Natural Science, Miller Outdoor Theater. Admission is free and open to the public Wednesday-Sunday; the Center is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and major holidays. Tours are offered to schools and other large groups by appointment. HCP is accessible for visitors with wheelchairs, and free parking is located in front of the building and along the nearby streets in the neighborhood. For general information and inquiries, contact (713) 529-4755 or visit the website at hcponline.org.

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