Last of Houston Black Professional Portrait Photographers Passes Away

ABOVE: Benny Joseph

The last of the Black Professional Portrait Photographers in Houston has passed.

Benny Joseph recently passed away and his memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 11:00 a.m., at Mabrie Memorial Mortuary, located at 5000 Almeda in Houston’s Third Ward.

There were only four Black Professional Portrait Photographers in Houston, beginning in 1919. They were: A.C. Teal, Herbert J. Provost, Louise Martin and Benny Joseph.

Only one operated a school – A.C. Teal, owner of Teal Photography School located on the campus of what was once known as Houston Junior College for Negroes and is currently known as Texas Southern University (TSU). Joseph was a graduate of Teal Photography School.

Joseph was born December 10, 1924 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His family moved to Houston, where he was raised by his mother. He attended Jack Yates High School in Houston and served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War from 1943 to 1945 and was stationed in England and France. After the war, Joseph attended the Teal School of Photography in Houston from 1946 to 1947 and subsequently pursued commercial photography. From 1950 to 1953 he worked with Herbert J. Provost, owner of Houston’s Provost Studios in Third Ward, and later opened his own studio in July 1958. Primarily a portrait photographer, he did a lot of music-related photography for the Buffalo Booking Agency, radio station KCOH-AM, and for Don Robey, photographing notable entertainers like B. B. King, Junior Parker, Bobby Bland, Buddy Ace and several others. He also documented racial discrimination for the NAACP, big time social gatherings, Black-owned businesses, and religious activities in the Houston area.

Joseph and his wife Hattie were married in 1953 and had four children. He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma service fraternity.

At present, only one Professional Portrait Photographer is carrying the legacy of his late father, Herbert J. Provost, at Houston’s Provost Studios, and that is Jerome K. Provost, who has managed the business since his father’s death.

The cameras of these four legends may have clicked for the last time upon their passing, but they have left Houston’s history in capable hands. Many of the stories of milestones in Houston have been captured by each of these photographers. Perhaps one day we’ll see their work in extraordinary fashion for all to see.

Provost Studios celebrates its 70th anniversary this year; Jerome has been at its helm for more than 22 years.

For more information on the memorial service for Benny Joseph, please contact Benny Joseph II at (832) 498-8007.