Nave Museum brings poverty-themed photo exhibit to Victoria

Camille Doty

July 24, 2012 at 2:24 a.m.

Ben White struggles with homelessness in Houston.  Witness his story unfold at the Nave Museum's Understanding Poverty exhibit, which will be featured this weekend only.

Ben White struggles with homelessness in Houston. Witness his story unfold at the Nave Museum's Understanding Poverty exhibit, which will be featured this weekend only.

As a photojournalist, Ben Tecumseh DeSoto was assigned to do a story on the homeless in the 1980s, but his curiosity wouldn't allow him to be satisfied with one-time coverage.

He was too intrigued by the plight of those he met on Houston streets.

"All I was doing was my job and the story unfolded," he said.

DeSoto will show the humanity to homelessness in his award-winning photo exhibit, Understanding Poverty, at the Nave Museum.

He is scheduled to be in Victoria during the free opening night reception from 6-9 p.m. Thursday.

Admission of $2 will be charged from noon to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday only.

On Independence Day 1988, DeSoto came upon Ben White toting a grocery cart with a bundle of balloons.

The former Houston Chronicle photojournalist wanted to learn more. He said divine guidance brought him and White together.

The 54-year-old Houston resident chronicled White's life for more than 20 years.

To keep in touch, White would come by DeSoto's office to keep him informed when he could. White spent many years incarcerated and chronically ill.

Judy Pruitt spent most of her childhood in the court system and resorted to a life of stripping to make ends meet. She was later diagnosed with cancer.

Both White and Pruitt have made their lives an open canvas for DeSoto to capture.

The University of Houston graduate had a epiphany, "the effects of poverty are just as traumatic as war," he said.

Understanding Poverty explores the lives of people from all walks of life who have experienced the common thread of poverty.

DeSoto still keeps in touch with many of them and continues to advocate for those living in poverty.

The father of two now works with the Houston Area Homeless Coalition and SEARCH Homeless Services.

Museum Executive Director Amy Leissner said the stories and photos of the exhibit are compelling.

"I want to evoke empathy," she said.

Kim Pickens, an exhibit curator, first saw DeSoto's exhibit at DiverseWorks in Houston. She wanted to bring the showcase to Victoria to help people to see real faces of this societal problem.

"Poverty isn't just a word but a human condition," she said.

Pickens said this exhibit is a platform for discussion.

The Victoria Area Homeless Coalition will host a workshop, "Building Bridges Out of Poverty," on Aug. 17.

One can't help but wonder where life has taken the compelling, photographed figures.

DeSoto learned that White had a mentor to teach him how to survive homelessness. White also enjoyed playing piano and singing gospel hymns, which brought a ray of light into his world of despair. Losing his instrument was just another blow.

"It was heart-breaking to see him lose that," DeSoto said.

In recent years, White has received some assistance and is living with relatives.

Pruitt gave up a life of crime and became a Christian. The mother of three faced a setback and lost her children to the system. She is believed to be incarcerated.

DeSoto hopes their stories will help others try to implement change.

"All you can hope to do is give people information to make informed and not fear-based decisions," he said.



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