A Portrait of the Neighborhood
Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber
Luis Parra’s Summer Studios installation, A Portrait of the Neighborhood, came together organically. It consists of spontaneous moments stumbled upon in Third Ward captured in photographs. Utilizing a combination of street photography and portraiture, Parra captured his interactions with various community members.
“With every person I photograph, I don’t just take their picture and walk away,” Parra said. “One person would introduce me to another person. The whole process of creating these images was really amazing, to be communicating and socializing with people in the area.”
In that sense, Parra’s installation is like a visual record of the human connections that he developed throughout his time in the neighborhood.
These interactions became Parra’s opportunity to experience Third Ward through the eyes of its residents. “I met this guy and was talking to him, and he introduced me to his entire family,” Parra recounted. “He started walking around with me while I was photographing and introduced me to all these people in the neighborhood. I got my favorite pictures from that time, and I think I got a lot better images because of that.”
Parra was surprised by the level of intimacy he encountered, sustained by these social ties. “I really felt like this wasn’t just a neighborhood where people live, but more of a community where everyone knows each other,” he reflected.
It’s this vision of the area surrounding Project Row Houses that Parra offers to viewers of his installation. By capturing these interactions as purely as possible, Parra invites viewers to share in the journey of encountering the neighborhood.
In order to give prominence to the subjects of his photographs, Parra sought to remove himself from his installation as much as possible. “I don’t want it to seem like I’m there,” he said. “I want it to be like the camera’s invisible, capturing these little moments that would otherwise disappear.”
To do this, Parra has eliminated another common element frequently found in photography exhibitions: frames. “I really like photos in frames,” Parra conceded, “but these pictures feel more organic.”
Instead of framing them, Parra affixed his photos to wood blocks, which he then affixed to the white walls of the shotgun house, creating a floating effect. “When I put them on wood, it seems like the images just exist by themselves,” he said. “They’re attached to wood, so you can approach them and just exist there.”
The lack of frames allows the viewer to visually perceive the diptychs and triptychs favored by Parra. Displaying his work in themed sets reiterates the sense of continuity that Parra discovered in the neighborhood throughout the residency.
Parra said he hopes that his photographs communicate the essence of his subjects. “There’s a portrait of a woman singing,” he cited as an example, “and I wanted to capture her joy, her vibrancy.”
When asked what his hopes are for visitors to his installation, Parra responded, “I hope that they really look at the photographs and feel the moments that are going on there.”
Luis Parra was born in Houston and grew up in south Houston. He had many artistic influences around him as a kid. Being of Cuban/Honduran decent, he was exposed to a plethora of Hispanic culture and art. Parra was always interested in the arts but didn’t fully take it seriously until his junior year of high school. He experimented with many mediums but found photography to be his passion and preferred way of creating art. He graduated from the Houston Academy for International Studies in 2017 and is now attending University of North Texas. Today he prefers to use traditional methods of photography by shooting on film and printing in the darkroom. The art he creates documents the human condition and explores alternative processes in photography.