texasmonthly.com: What was the thought process that led to this project, and who came up with the idea?
Scott Dadich: I had come up with this idea some time ago—but more as a portrait of the state. I had originally thought we’d just travel around the state and chronicle people as they live and breathe in their natural environment—much like a nature documentary. But as I looked at it and the Houston issue approached, I wanted to test the idea on a city. It became a much smaller and easier target, and we were able to tackle some of the logistical problems.
texasmonthly.com: What are you trying to convey to readers through this photo essay?
SD: Very simply, I wanted to document Houstonians in their homes. I wanted to take a cross section of folks—rich, poor, middle class, white, black, brown—to show what they looked like, how they lived, who their kids were. I wanted the photos to be simple—straightforward and without heavy production value—and that would allow the subjects to be presented plainly and without judgment. The people in the Bellaire mansion would have the same simple lighting, the same crop, the same distance from the camera as the people in the Pasadena trailer house. I just wanted to level the playing field for all subjects. At the same time, I wanted no preparations made by the subjects. No makeup, no styling, no primping, no cleaning the house or mowing the yard—everyone who agreed to be photographed had to also agree to be photographed as is.
texasmonthly.com: How did you determine which photographer you wanted to use?
SD: I wanted to use Artie Limmer for several reasons. Of the many photographers I know and admire, Artie is one of the most talented at convincing people to sit for a photograph. He’s enormously gifted artistically, but a good fifty percent of the success of these photos is simply getting the subject to agree to pose. Nothing in these photos is contrived or planned; once we get in the door and earn our subject’s trust, we’re halfway there to an exceptional photo. Artie can talk anyone into posing. He’s just a good-natured guy—a valuable asset for this assignment.
texasmonthly.com: How did the process work? Who came up with the questions?
SD: Basically, we took a map and divided the city into neighborhoods that we knew we’d want to represent. From there, we simply drove around and knocked on doors. We’d explain our purpose and show our press credentials and business cards to whomever answered the door and try and convince them to sit for a family photo. Easier said than done. We probably had about one in twenty households accept our request.
texasmonthly.com: How did you decide on where to go?
SD: Paul Burka and Mimi Swartz gave us some great advice and pointed out the must-get neighborhoods. I think you would say they gave us the blueprint of the city and showed Artie and I where we needed to start. Once we covered those neighborhoods, anything in the city was fair game.
texasmonthly.com: Was it difficult to get people to cooperate? Why or why not?
SD: For the most part it was. Most people were wary of us—to the point where every time someone answered the door, we had to offer the disclaimer: “We’re not selling anything!” That usually broke the ice and people eased up a bit. Some people were brave and let us come right in. The good folks in Eastwood even invited us to stay and enjoy fajitas with them.
texasmonthly.com: What did you notice as you went from neighborhood to neighborhood?
SD: The common thread was the love of the city. Aside from the heat, almost everyone we talked to loved living in Houston and planned on staying there as long as they could foresee.
texasmonthly.com: Did you find that people in certain neighborhoods were more likely to cooperate than others?
SD: People in lower-income neighborhoods were generally welcoming and more friendly toward us.
texasmonthly.com: Did you ask each “family” the same questions?
texasmonthly.com: What did you find most interesting about this project? Why?
SD: I really loved seeing the city—getting involved in its rhythms on a most basic level. I was pretty familiar with the city before this project, but even through a relatively short time, I came to know the city on a much more intimate and personal level.
texasmonthly.com: How long did it take you to complete the project?
SD: Four days.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite photograph? Why?
SD: My favorite is of the Broussards. They were about to sit down to a Saturday evening dinner when we interrupted them. Sondra and the girls were watching TV the whole time we shot them; they barely paid attention to us. I like the easy way they’re sitting with their dad (Sondra’s husband). And did I mention how much I love their rug?