Visual Art

Southwest Houston Residents Use Photography To Express Public Health Concerns

Residents of Alief, Gulfton and Sharpstown captured images of things that keep them from living a healthy lifestyle.

Karina Canales scans the wall of a room at the Baker Ripley Neighborhood Center, looking for pictures she took.  

She searches through images of fallen trees, overflowing dumpsters and graffiti before landing on this one of the pool at her apartment complex. She points to a space behind the fence.

“Sometimes the people throw away the garbage here in this side,” Canales says.

Canales says she’s lived in this complex for more than 20 years, and she loves it there. She can easily walk to the store, the doctor’s office and the pharmacy. But when she sees she passes by piles of trash and endless potholes, it makes her feel less at home.

“I’m very sad about seeing garbage,” she says. “When I’m walking, it’s no good.”

Now rather than just passing by, Canales is hoping to bring these issues to light. She’s one of 15 residents of Alief, Gulfton and Sharpstown that took part in a recent photography project. Participants captured images of things that keep them from living a healthy lifestyle.

For many, sanitation was a big concern. Gulfton resident Pedro Alvarez says two of the biggest problems in his neighborhood are crime and traffic.

Translation: “I don’t think the problems are that big. It can be resolved by the community, but they will need the help of different government agencies.”

For many residents, the project helped them realize that they had the power to address their health concerns. Peggy Geotz is president of the nonprofit ProSalud, one of the groups that helped organize the project, along with the Episcopal Health Foundation and Legacy Community Health.

“It gives them a different way to describe and respond to what they see every day, and I think for them it’s also an important way to learn to express themselves,” Geotz says.

And Geotz says residents came up with some practical solutions.

“If your apartment is in bad repair, you need to write a letter to learn to document things and to send things in writing, to take photographs to document things,” she says.

Geotz says the information will also help researchers learn what health services are needed in these communities.

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