Since moving to Houston over 15 years ago, I’ve rarely spent any appreciable time in areas outside of my own or those surrounding the areas that I typically visit. Considering the sheer size of “Houston,” which is the city itself plus the suburban areas that were annexed by the city, there’s really no way to see much of it and I don’t think many Houstonians have. Most people here tend to stay in their own section of the city but I felt like I was missing out on something important. Figuring I needed to get better acquainted with Houston and its diversity of culture (not just skin color), I decided to make it a photography project. While I knew I hadn’t seen much of Houston, it wasn’t until I started this project that I realized I haven’t even scratched the surface of this city.

Street Portrait of Mr. Scales in Fifth Ward, Houston, TX
Joe Scales of Fifth Ward

I recently decided to make a stop through Fifth Ward. I’ve passed by and through this area on many occasions but never really took time to walk around and get a feel for it. I had a few hours so I stopped off of Jensen Drive and walked along it and through a small section of the area surrounding it to see what I would discover. After taking a few shots along the street, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Joe Scales (pictured) as he was hanging out and enjoying the afternoon. He had noticed me and my camera and, after motioning to him to see if he’d allow me to photograph him, he waved me over and we had a really great talk.

Mr. Scales told me about Fifth Ward, being a 63 year resident of the area, and shared a little about his life with me. He told me that he repairs and refurbishes bicycles and had been doing that since taking his first bike apart as a young boy (which nearly led to a tail-whipping). He told me how that led him to discover a love for fixing things as well as giving him a very good lesson in mathematics. Since his father demanded that Mr. Scales put his tools back in the exact order he found them (cleaned off, of course) it made him understand and learn fractions because of the sizes of the wrenches. I loved hearing that story as it reminded me of the lessons I learned myself, or through my friend’s parents, as a kid. Plus, it gave me appreciation for how tough parents used to be on kids; not to be hurtful but to teach discipline and structure.

I really enjoyed talking to Mr. Scales and hearing about his family as well as the neighborhood. He made sure to talk to me about how folks in the area would likely be very suspicious about a random person walking around with a camera, which I completely understood, but I felt that him taking the time to talk to and learn about me was his way of helping me not seem so suspicious. But, of course, I needed one thing from him that I thought would seal the proverbial deal and that was a picture of him (which he begrudgingly agreed to). From there, I walked around the neighborhood and took some more photographs, some of which you see below. For as much as Houston is known for its growth and economics, there are many areas of this city that have missed out on those things.

Even with the poor conditions of the area, some much worse off than others, I was met with many smiles (and many stares, too) and saw people finding joy in less than “ideal” circumstances. It truly reminded me of the neighborhood I grew up in as a kid so it was almost like a trip down memory lane. I’ll definitely be back to Fifth Ward and, hopefully, will see Mr. Scales again as well as meet more of the residents of this unique area of Houston.