Earlie Hudnall, Jr., American, born 1946
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 13/16 × 15 in. (47.8 × 38.1 cm) Sheet: 19 13/16 × 15 15/16 in. (50.3 × 40.5 cm)
Habits of Mind
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
GRADE LEVEL6, 7, 8
Exploring Portraits Through Photography and Painting
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
This Curriculum Connection also includes John Singleton Copley, Portrait of a Boy.
Connecting to the Work of Art
“I chose to use the camera as a tool to document different aspects of life —who we are, what we do, how we live, what our communities look like. These various patterns are all interwoven, like a quilt into important patterns of history.”—Earlie Hudnall, Jr.
The subject of this photograph is a young African American boy who approached photographer Earlie Hudnall Jr. on the streets of Galveston and asked him to take his photograph. Shirtless and wearing baggy jeans, the boy looks directly into the camera. He purposely displays his underwear, along with a beeper and a thick gold chain around his neck—items commonly associated with drug dealers and street gangs. The boy’s apparel is incongruous with his age, yet he plays his role convincingly, allowing no suggestion of vulnerability in his cool demeanor. His relaxed, graceful pose projects self-reliance and defiant confidence. His smooth dark skin takes on a velvet quality against the roughly textured cinderblock wall.
To Hudnall, a camera is simply a mechanical apparatus with which to document human existence. He does not pose his subjects, but instead allows his “gut” to tell him when to take a picture as he walks around neighborhoods. He works primarily in Houston’s Third Ward, a predominately African American neighborhood. However, this form of documentation is not truly a factual visual record, but rather a poignant documentation of fleeting glimpses of human emotion.
This photograph’s title, Hip Hop, refers to a segment of American culture that has its roots and a large proportion of its membership in the African American community. Widely used to describe a category of music, hip hop actually encompasses much more, including language, dance, dress, and art.
A native of Missouri, Earlie Hudnall, Jr. moved to Houston, Texas after serving in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He attended Texas Southern University (TSU) in Houston under the guidance of the illustrious African American professor and artist John Biggers. The photography department at TSU was still relatively new at the time, and Hudnall had little experience in the field, having only purchased his first camera while in Vietnam. Yet he showed great promise, and after receiving a B.A. in Art Education in 1976, he began work as a staff photographer for the university. Hudnall has participated in many programs and projects in the Houston area, and continues to work most often in the African American community.
- What is your impression of and reaction to this photograph?
- The subject of this photograph is a young African-American boy who approached the artist on the streets of Galveston and asked him to take his picture. How would you characterize this boy? Why do you think he stares directly at the camera?
- Hudnall was quoted as saying, "I chose to use the camera as a tool to document different aspects of our life—who we are, what we do, how we live, what our communities look like." Look at backdrop of this photograph. Describe the type of environment you think surrounds the boy. How would the feeling have changed if the artist photographed the boy in a different setting, such as a park or against a window?
- Hudnall does not pose his subjects, but instead allows his photographer´s eye to tell him when to take a picture. Consider the arrangement of lines, colors, and textures. Describe the contrasts the artist has captured.
- The boy leans against the wall of a building. His torso gently curves as his shoulder rests against this structure. Some people who look at this photograph see self-reliance and defiant confidence in the boy´s relaxed, graceful stance. Other people suggest that he is a vulnerable child in an adult´s pose. Do you agree with either of these opinions? Why or why not?
- Is the title Hip Hop surprising to you? Why do you think the photographer chose this title? What title would you have used for this photograph?
- This image has been described as “striking.” What about the image is “striking”? Consider the line, shape, color, and composition.
- Why do you think Hudnall would have taken this photograph? Should artists refrain from these types of subject matters? Why or why not?
- How could this image be altered in order to change the tone of the photograph and its message?
- Hudnall is known for walking Houston neighborhoods and photographing the people, places, and events that he sees. What other types of images could he be expected to produce? What qualities might his work characteristically possess?
Connecting to the Classroom
- Questions for Portrait of a Boy:
- Look at this portrait, describe what you are seeing. Analyze his clothing, hairstyle, demeanor, and setting.
- Look at the objects in the portrait, what do they say about the boy and his family?
- If you met this person in real life, what kind of attitude or personality do you think he may have?
- What is the mood of this painting?
- Questions for the Hip Hop:
- Look at this portrait, describe what you are seeing. Analyze his clothing, demeanor, and setting. What do they say about the boy and his family?
- If you met this person in real life, what kind of attitude or personality do you think he may have?
- What is the mood of this photograph?
- This is a photograph of a boy in Galveston in 1993. How does that information change your opinion of the boy and his lifestyle?
- The artist titled this work of art Hip Hop. Why do you think the artist chose this title? Explain your answer.
- Should artists refrain from this type of subject matter? Why or why not?
- Questions for comparing:
- When you view these artworks side by side, what similarities do you see? What differences do you see?
- How do you think the boys in the artworks want to be perceived? Why do you think this?
- Remove each boy from his culture and time period. How would they fit in or function in the other boy’s culture? How would that change their attitude?
- What if each of the boys were sitting down, how would that change the mood of the artwork? What type of seated pose could you place them in that would communicate their confident attitude?
- Give the students a mood or an attitude, and ask them to pose how they feel that they can show that attitude.
- Have students create gesture drawings of each other in poses that communicate a mood or attitude.
- Use this artwork as a connection to a proportion lesson on the human body.
- For a lesson on Photography: Students will create a still-life photograph using objects that communicate important aspects of a family member’s personality, life, or culture. As in the Copley painting, students will use one strong light source in their photograph to create dynamic values. The objects should be arranged in a way that they will have a dialogue between each other and tell a story.
- Students will create a portrait of themselves that tells something about the person in the portrait. Students will hold, use, or wear one object that speaks about their interests or culture. Accurate proportions will be applied and strong contrasts in light and shade will be used. To get the strong contrast, students will take a photo of themselves in a darkened room using one single light source. The photo will be gridded and drawn. The gridding process will teach them to analyze the proportion. Students will use acrylic paint and use a color scheme to define the mood. Students used their sketchbook to plan out their color scheme before starting with acrylic.
Subject Matter Connection
One of the major reasons artists create art is to communicate an idea. Understanding how to break apart a work of art to see what is being communicated is a vital part of learning about art and how to be an artist. Students who learn how to truly communicate thoughts and concepts create meaningful works of art that have an impact on society. In portrait art, the skill of capturing personality, mood, or social status, and communicating that to the viewer, adds depth to the work of art.
When learning to analyze these two artworks, students will gain a better understanding of how artists impart their culture. Art records history, and artists speak on their artwork. These artworks are from two different time periods and two very different cultures. This activity of analyzing and comparing will help students make a history and culture connection with their own artwork.
Additionally, we ask students to look at art from artists and other students to produce their own art. In the art classroom, we ask students to synthesize ideas from art into their own work. Thus, teaching them to analyze and compare these two artworks will help them develop a process for comparing, taking ideas, and creating.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.