If you’ve been to any LGBTQ event in Houston over the past 35 years, you’ve probably run into Dalton DeHart. The photographer has taken more than one million photos of community gatherings, and has used about 20 different cameras to do so.
“I just want people—not only now, but in the future—to be able to view the history of the community through the various photos I’ve taken over the last 30-plus years.”
In order to preserve and share this pictorial history, DeHart formed the Dalton DeHart Photographic Foundation in 2015. The nonprofit’s fundraising efforts have allowed him to digitize more than 300,000 photos taken with film and build a website to share the photos free of charge. In all, daltondehart.com will soon have over 750,000 searchable photos available to the public.
DeHart’s commitment to preserving local LGBTQ history has earned him this year’s Montrose Center LGBTQ Community Vision Award—a high honor that has only been awarded to seven other high-profile Houston activists and public servants. DeHart will be presented with the award during the Center’s Out for Good virtual holiday gala on December 3.
“Dalton has been instrumental in capturing our community’s history for decades,” says Meleah Jones, community project specialist for the Montrose Center. “We could think of no one better to honor with this year’s LGBTQ Community Vision Award.”
DeHart’s event images include everyone who makes community social events possible, from the hosts and major donors to the servers and janitors. Every person in attendance and behind the scenes is equally important to him.
As we all know, DeHart makes it a point to get to know each one of his photo subjects while asking them to move closer together and smile. But what do we know about him?
DeHart grew up in the tiny East Texas town of Buna, a city of just under six square miles situated somewhere between Beaumont and Jasper. He often lovingly refers to it as “Greater Buna,” a clever reference to Greater Tuna, the mythical and quintessential East Texas small town brought to life in live-theater comedy productions throughout the 1980s.
Dehart was the second-youngest child in a family of six boys and five girls. In high school, he enjoyed drama and was president of his senior class.
DeHart left Buna to attend Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, majoring in speech and drama with a minor in English. While there, he joined the ATO fraternity and participated in many academic and social activities, including serving as the emcee for several of the Miss Sam Houston Pageants. It was during his time at the university that DeHart began to document school events and social gatherings with a small, inexpensive camera.
Photography soon developed into a lifelong passion for him. “I enjoy taking photos because it allows me to elevate people and encourage them to be the best that they can be,” DeHart says. “My greatest desire is that people be able to see, through my pictures, the passion with which I take them.”
After graduating college, DeHart joined the U.S. Army, taking a camera with him everywhere. DeHart would reach the rank of captain before finishing in the reserves. At the end of his tour of duty, he returned to Buna to teach high-school English for a few years. Realizing then that teaching was his professional calling, he went back to Sam Houston to earn a master’s degree in English and started teaching at Lamar University in Beaumont. Wanting to continue his education even further, DeHart set out for Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to enter a doctoral program. Sadly, his mother died just before he completed his dissertation, forcing him to return home to Buna.
Now back in Texas, DeHart found a part-time job teaching at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, and completed his doctorate in education at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Soon after becoming Dr. DeHart, he began teaching full-time at “San Jac,” as it is affectionately known. Within six years, he became chairperson of the Language Skills Department—a position he would hold until his retirement in 2006. That was also the year he received the prestigious Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award from the well-funded foundation that recognizes 10 Texas professors each year for their outstanding academic, scientific, and scholarly achievement, and for their dedication to the teaching profession. As a retired teacher, DeHart continues to advise local teachers on curriculum issues at Tanglewood Middle School.
“After committing my entire life to the profession of teaching, receiving that award validated my dedication to students’ personal as well as academic development,” DeHart says. “It was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received.”
While at San Jac, DeHart regularly took photos at school basketball games as well as many other athletic and social events. It wasn’t long before friends would also invite him to take pictures at their special events.
Seeing how much DeHart enjoyed photography, two of his colleagues at San Jac in 1989 asked if he might be interested in joining the Executive and Professional Association of Houston (EPAH), an LGBTQ social and networking organization. In short order, DeHart was taking photos for EPAH, the Montrose Softball League, AIDS Foundation Houston, and many other LGBTQ community organizations.
Since launching the Dalton DeHart Photographic Foundation in 2015, DeHart now works with four volunteers who help him take photos of local LGBTQ events, some of which occur simultaneously. He and the volunteers often take notes with names, numbers, and emails so they can share the photos later with those who ask.
Over the years, DeHart has become a highly respected photographer. He has received numerous awards from the organizations he has photographed events for, including being named a Pride Houston Grand Marshal in 2008 and receiving the Kindred Spirits Community Treasure Award in 2014, the Diana Foundation Award in 2015, the Houston Transgender Unity Commitee’s Transgender Archive Award in 2015, and several OutSmart Gayest & Greatest Favorite Male Community Photographer awards.
Nevertheless, he was stunned to learn that he had been chosen to receive this year’s Montrose Center LGBTQ Community Vision Award. “I was truly surprised and honored that I was selected,” he says, reflecting on the mission of his Dalton DeHart Photographic Foundation. “I just want people—not only now, but in the future—to be able to view the history of the community through the various photos I’ve taken over the last 30-plus years.”
What: Out for Good virtual gala
When: December 3 at 7:30 p.m.