Houston Noir was partially inspired by Sigman ‘Sig’ Byrd’s column, “The Stroller,” which ran during the 1940s in the original Houston Press, who wrote stories about the down-and-out citizens and seedy neighborhoods.
Today, Houston and its surrounding suburbs is one of the most economically-vibrant metropolitan areas in the country, with the Texas Medical Center continually expanding and Forbes 500 companies setting their herculean skyscrapers in downtown Houston like glorious trophies. Commercial real estate and gentrification have changed Houston so much that if Sig Byrd tried to navigate his way to his old haunts, he would’ve been utterly lost in the city he knew like the back of his hand.
Still, there is a jazzy and gritty kind of street poetry to this sprawling metropolis when you actually hit the pavement at night. Though Houston has a lot of wealth, the city still has a large homeless population, many of whom can be found on Main Street, near the bus stations, or right at the footsteps of One Shell Plaza and the former Enron buildings. While shooting photographs, I made sure to watch my footsteps, because there were homeless men and women lying down in every other nook and corner I turned.
On the other hand, the emptiness of the streets, parking garages and abandoned buildings of downtown has a zombie movie set quality to it. In fact, I stood underneath a traffic light for ten minutes taking photographs of the street without being bothered by police or motorists. How fitting: a concrete ghost town filled with people invisible to society.
Houston Noir is not intended to romanticize the people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, as if they’re saintly people who should be given full sympathy, but rather my feeble attempt at portraying the contradictions of the downtown area: the wealthy and the destitute sharing space; streets and sidewalks devoid of “normal” citizens, but parks filled with the homeless; a real organic city built from synthetic structures.
Houston Noir shows that the modern city still has many things to improve, even if it has progressed a lot since Sig Byrd’s day.