The black and white pictures are of a town called Vidor, population 11,440, located about an hour and a half outside of Houston, Texas.
It is the hometown of James Byrd Jr., a black man who, the day after he moved out of Vidor, was dragged to his death in nearby Jasper. The town has a mystique both nationally and locally as a surviving bastion of the Ku Klux Klan. There hasn’t been a racially motivated incident in Vidor in years, yet when it’s mentioned, many Houston residents still respond with warnings, concern and jokes about white hoods.
Mr. Anderson says the photographs in the book, published in October by Dewi Lewis, came out of the affection he developed for the small town; he considers them largely sympathetic portrayals of the beauty he sees in life “close to the bone,” as he put it.
Many of the people of Vidor complain about the book, not so much the photographs but the mere existence of the book. Vidor, as the sociologist Jim Loewen, author of “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” said, is a town that “takes the heat” for what he found to be many other racially charged towns in Texas and the rest of America.
Vidor is well aware of its reputation. Residents were generally wary of a reporter’s approaches, and asked, invariably, if the resulting article would finally be the one to show Vidor’s good side. They were tired of misrepresentation, they said.
“Rough Beauty” is Mr. Anderson’s first published book of photography. A self-described “upper middle class white boy,” he is 36, and took his first picture only four years ago, after a flier from the International Center for Photography made its way to his New York City apartment. He became smitten with photography, quit his job and moved to Beaumont to study with the Texas photographer Keith Carter.
Published: March 4, 2007