By Megan Smith
If you’ve attended any Houston community event in the past 30 years, you most likely know Dalton DeHart. With a camera in hand, DeHart is an iconic figure in both the LGBT and Houston communities, having photographed thousands of nonprofit and community events since the mid-1980s. Through the creation of his new foundation, The Dalton DeHart Photographic Foundation, DeHart is now working toward digitizing, cataloging, and preserving his expanding collection of nearly one million photographs to make them accessible to the public for their educational, historic, and cultural value. The foundation will hold its launch party on Sunday, November 15, from 2–5 p.m. at the Montrose Center.
DeHart first ventured into photography after purchasing a 35 mm camera while living in Illinois. In 1980, he moved back to Houston and started photographing events for San Jacinto College, where he worked as a professor. Through some friends, DeHart was invited to join the Executive and Professional Association of Houston (EPAH)—an organization for Houston LGBT professionals—and took photos for the group’s directory. From there, he was introduced to other LGBT community organizations and was soon “talking photos of practically every event in Houston.” At the Houston LGBT Pride Celebration, he would shoot more than 20 rolls of film, he says.
When asked about his favorite events to photograph, DeHart says there are too many to name. “Back then, LGBT events were much more under the radar,” DeHart explains. “Now, there are so many events going on all the time. We have multiple events going on practically every day.” He also became heavily involved in photographing nonprofit organizations that focused on helping those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, such as Omega House (now Bering Omega Community Services/HACS), AIDS Foundation Houston, and Body Positive Houston and the Montrose Clinic (both of which are now part of Legacy Community Health).
During his photographic career, DeHart has even shot photos for prominent politicians, including Mayor Annise Parker and former President Bill Clinton. After she was elected to public office for the first time, DeHart’s photo of Parker graced the front page of The Houston Voice.
In 2004, DeHart switched from shooting film to digital photography and launched his website, daltondehart.com. Since then, he’s posted more than 500,000 photos from at least 1,000 events to the site. To this day, he continues to shoot at least five to 12 events per week and has filled up almost 20 terabytes of computer storage with his photographs.
Before retiring from teaching in 2006, DeHart continued to hold down his 35-hour per week job at San Jacinto College while spending an extra 35 hours per week photographing events—the majority of which were unpaid. “The most I’ve ever taken in one day was 11 stops,” DeHart says. “I started one afternoon and finished around 4 a.m. And that was in film days! It was nuts. I always said I needed to start a Photographers Anonymous group. But for me, photography has always been driven by passion, not by financial gain.”
Although his digital photographs are available to the public through his website, DeHart still has over 400,000 photos shot on film waiting to be digitized—a pricey endeavor. From this need, The Dalton DeHart Photographic Foundation was born. Although the concept has been in the works for a number of years, DeHart notes that, “over the past five years, we’ve really gotten serious about it.” He has since put together a board for the foundation, as well as secured its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
The foundation’s launch party will include hors d’oeuvres from Jim Benton Catering, drinks donated by OutReach United and the Nice Winery, and a photo booth and music provided by Bradley David Entertainment. A cake will be provided by the Acadian Bakery. The event is free of charge, but donations to the foundation—both cash and credit—will be accepted at the door. For more information, visit facebook.com/events/1691949084374694.