Hip Hop, 1993
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)
Museum purchase funded by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. in honor of Clare A. Glassell

Habits of Mind

  • OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown

Understanding the Law of Conservation of Energy

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.

Curriculum Objectives

  • Draw hypotheses about climate and environment from divergent imagery
  • Apply the Law of Conservation of Energy to real-world situations






Overcome Fear

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 Hudnall be expected to produce? What qualities might his work characteristically possess?


Either in groups or as a class, present John Singleton Copley's Portrait of a Boy alongside Earlie Hudnall, Jr.’s Hip Hop. Guide the class to analyze these works of art, imitating the boys’ postures and describing their expression, dress, and setting. Also ask the class to hypothesize where the boys might live. Do students think that the images show warm or cold climates? Why?

After discussing the works of art, use them to explore the Law of Conservation of Energy. Ask students: if energy cannot be created or destroyed, how can these artworks show energy transformation? For example, if the sun shone on the 20th-century boy’s necklace, how would thermal energy transfer occur? If the 18th-century boy threw the shuttlecock (birdie) into the air and hit it with his racket, how would the energy change in that situation? Prompt students to find other examples of the Law of Conservation of Energy in both artworks.

Subject Matter Connection

In science, the scientist has a lot to do with the success of the experiment.  Cutting-edge work requires that the scientist be unafraid of failure, ambiguity, or the unknown.  The more we address the overwhelming success of failure, the greater scientific risks students will take. The Law of Conservation of Energy is often misunderstood.  The middle school student has a hard time understanding the abstract concept of energy not being created or destroyed, but transforming.

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