Houston Post Photographs
Scope and Contents
Contained in the collection are prints and negatives created by Houston Post staff photographers. The photographs were created during their news coverage of Houston, Texas, and the surrounding area. Occasionally photographers traveled further, especially for sports, politics, fashion and weather-related disasters such as floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.
The bulk of the collection consists of negatives; there are 2,829 11x14" prints. The negatives are mostly dated 1955 to 1989, though there are some images from earlier events, back into the 1930s. The prints date from 1954 to 1976, with the exception of two images dated 1931.
The subjects reflect a metropolitan paper’s attempt to report daily events and stories to its readers. Photographers covered spot news; fires; crime; courts; local government; high school, college, and professional sports; lifestyles; society events; fashion; food; commerce; local retailers; and new commercial real estate. Until about 1976, the news photographers also received assignments from the advertising department, where they mostly shot newly constructed houses and portraits. Resulting from these varied perspectives, the images in this collection document wide-ranging aspects of daily life in and around Houston.
Noteworthy events in the collections include the Woodway Square apartment fire; TSU students protesting; various hurricanes; the construction and opening of the Harris County Sports Stadium complex (Astrodome and Astrodomain); the Republican National Convention (1992); the Economic Summit (1990); The Beatles 1965 tour stop in Houston; the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs; Karla Faye Tucker’s murder trial; the Candy Man murders; the Ice Box Murders; the Joan Robinson Hill murder trials; JFK’s “Moon Speech” at Rice University; construction of the Johnson Space Center; the fatal explosion of a railroad tank car on Mykawa Road; the release of a deadly ammonia cloud at the West Loop/Highway 59 intersection; the demolition of the Shamrock Hotel; a Civil Rights-era sit-in; NASA introducing the original Astronauts; President and Jackie Kennedy and Vice President and Lady Bird Johnson speaking to LULAC the night before the President's assassination; the parade celebrating the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts; and the Moody Park Riot. Additional Presidential visits documented include those by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.
The photographs held by HMRC were previously stored and managed in the Houston Post’s Photo Department. The Houston Post Library was a separate unit that also managed photographs for the paper. The photographs kept in the Post Library were retained by the Post and are not part of the HMRC collection.
In addition to the photographs themselves, this collection also includes the original Houston Post assignment sheets. With few exceptions, photography started with the generation of an assignment from the various news departments. In the case of “wild art” (an interesting image spotted by a photographer while driving to an assignment), an assignment sheet might be generated retroactively. As the collection has been processed, these assignment sheets have been kept with the accompanying photographs.
For a given photo assignment, HMRC typically holds the entire set of negatives a photographer created, rather than just a single image. Most of the images a photographer shot would not have run in the paper. Oftentimes the negatives or print file sleeves have markings to indicate which ones were sent to be printed—and therefore may have run in the paper.
The formats in the collection are 4x5” negatives, 2 ¼” roll film, 35mm roll film and 11x14” prints. HMRC also has a guide, available upon request, to reading the Houston Post assignment sheets. Since the assignment sheets typically have the photographer's initials, rather than full name, researchers interested in identifying specific photographers should request HMRC's (incomplete) list of Houston Post staff photographers.
- 1941 - November 29, 1989
- Majority of material found within 1955 - November 29, 1989
- Houston Post (Houston, Tex.) (1885-1995) (Publisher, Organization)
This collection is open for research.
Permission to publish or reproduce materials from RG D 0006 Houston Post Photographs must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder. Materials may not be used for political purposes. Reproductions must credit the Houston Post.
Three daily papers operated in Houston in the period covered: The Houston Press, part of the Scripps Howard chain; the Houston Post, privately owned; and the Houston Chronicle, owned by tbe Houston Endowment until 1987 and later by the Hearst Corporation.
The Houston Post:
The Houston Post was a daily afternoon newspaper that operated in Houston, TX from 1889 to 1995. In the early 1970s it moved into its facility at 4747 Southwest Freeway, where it operated until it closed.
During the time spanned by HMRC’s Houston Post Photographs, the newspaper had two ownership changes. From 1924 until 1983 the Hobby family owned the Post. The Toronto Sun bought the Post in 1983. The Canadian company operated the paper until it was sold to William Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group in 1987.
Most photo assignments were initiated by the varied departments within the paper. These included: City Desk (spot news, fires, crime, courts, and local government); Sports Desk (games and features about high school, college and professional teams); Feature desk (lifestyles, society events, fashion, and food); Business Desk (commerce, local retailers, new commercial real estate); State Desk (similar to City Desk, but covering a larger area with out-of-town bureaus). Until about 1976, the news photographers also received assignments from the advertising department (mostly newly constructed houses and portraits).
The Houston Post Photo Department, approximately 1955-1989:
The Houston Post Photo Department usually had a staff of nine or ten photographers. The chief photographer and the assistant chief were responsible for scheduling shifts and assignments, attending daily newsroom meetings, ordering and distributing supplies, liaising with newsroom departments, and were also expected to carry out assignments when the need arose. For many years, each photographer was responsible for creating finished photos and making sure they were delivered to the originating desk.
Although a photographer who showed an interest in a particular subject or event might get some preference when one of those assignments appeared, photographers worked a rotation of shifts and were expected to photograph what ever happened during their shift. The shifts rotated every three months. A photographer might work a shift from early morning on, then move to one that started mid-morning, then go a mid-afternoon start. Usually there were no shifts that kept photographers at the paper after deadline (10:30pm), but if spot news broke out, the late shift on their way home would get the call.
For much of its existence, the layout of the Post showed a mostly journalistic, conservative look. Photos were run smaller and frequently selected to reinforce a reporter’s story rather than based on the merits of the photo. Staff-generated color photos were rarely published except for food, fashion, and holidays.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s—still the Hobby years—a redesign of the paper by an outside consultant did increase the use of photos. At the same time, it was also recommended that the corners of the pictures be rounded. This was said to make the photos look more like they would on television screens of that era.
When the Post moved into its new building at 4747 Southwest Freeway in the early 1970s, every photographer shared a small film processing room with several other photographers. The entire staff shared a large printing room containing several enlargers and a common developing sink and a pass-through print washer. A lab technician who was not a photographer handled copy work, occasional color separations, and processing film from non-staff sources. Cutline information was to be put on the back of each print. Originally this was in done in pencil; later typed adhesive labels were used.
Photography, especially color photography, became much more prominent at the Post (literally overnight) when the Toronto Sun bought the paper. On December 5, 1983—the first day of Toronto Sun ownership—page one sported a bight red mast head, three color graphics, a one-column photo down the down the left side and a three-column spot news photo that had been colorized from a black and white wire transmission.
Not only was picture use immediately increased, every frame of each day’s photo assignments was critically reviewed by the managing editor. Every section was to have a color photo on its front. This meant that every assignment that could possibly end up on the a section front had to be shot in color. For the first year or two, this change meant photographers used color slide film almost exclusively.
An E-6 slide film processing machine was acquired, and the added time it took to process color slide film (about 60 minutes before drying) became a factor in meeting editorial deadlines. These color slides were edited in a different way from black and white negatives or color negatives. A few images would be selected, clipped down to a single frame and each inserted into aperture cards. These cards made it easy to view a single frame while protecting the film and still allowing an area to write identification and caption information.
The frames that were not selected were put into Print File negative storage pages and either filed in the Photo Department or disposed of. The selected images (still in their cards) mostly ended up in the Post library. This an important detail, because those cards were not included in the donations to HMRC.
Until the use of color negative film, some assignment sheets specified the use of color film and black and white film. If one of those assignments occurs in HMRC’s Houston Post database, it is possible that only the black and white negatives may be present in HMRC’s holdings.
After a Noritsu color film processor and a Kodak Versamat print processor were installed in the Photo lab, the photographers were given the choice of using color transparency film or color negative film. Color negative film was favored by the photographers because of the longer range of film speeds available, increased latitude of color negative film over transparency film, and the better quality when conversions to back and white were called for.
As fewer and fewer assignments were shot in black and white, photographers no longer processed their own film. Processing machines took over because color films required higher levels of precision. The time previously spent in developing film was rerouted to typing identification and cutline information into a computer and printing several copies onto adhesive labels. One copy was applied to the prints and one to the sheet of negatives. Photographers were made more responsible for accurately furnishing identification of the people in their photos.
An incomplete list of Houston Post staff photographers is available upon request.
244.75 Linear Feet (322 boxes)
Language of Materials
At the time the negatives were delivered to HMRC, they were filed by date and stored in custom-made shelving to accommodate the 4x5 glassine envelopes that held the film and the assignment sheets. Since then, they have been transferred to archival boxes. Many have also been transferred to paper envelopes.
If an assignment had been shot on 2 ¼” roll film, the film was cut into 2-frame strips. If it was shot on 35mm film, then they were cut into 3-frame strips. The assignment sheet was wrapped around the film before it was put into a glassine envelope. From late 1979 on, the film was cut into 6-frame strips and inserted into Print File archival storage pages. The assignment sheet was then stapled to the top of the storage page.
At HMRC, the date filing system has generally been maintained. In addition, each photo assignment has been assigned a new identification number to facilitate storage and retrieval. This number includes the collection number, the year of the original assignment, and sequential number of that assignment within the year. Generally, this number looks like RGD006N-1970-2483. The “N” indicates a set of negatives. The collection number without an “N” indicates a single print.
HMRC's Photographic Archives Database (https://hmrc.houstonlibrary.org/photos/) contains an inventory of photographs in this collection.
The Houston Post negatives and prints were brought to HMRC in two or three migrations, several years apart. HMRC Photo Archivist Joel Draut participated in one or two of these trips from the Houston Post offices at 4747 Southwest Freeway to 500 McKinney Street in his previous role working at the Post.
Select images from this collection have been digitized and are available on the Houston Public Library Digital Archives at https://cdm17006.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/search/collection/images/searchterm/rg%20d%200006
- Houston Post Photographs
- Joel Draut, Matt Richardson
- July 28, 2020
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center Repository