It’s not easy, as an artist, to make your primary subject a certain sound. For example, the sound of deep pain mixed with a flame of hope. Photographer Benny Joseph, however, made a career of it. Throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the photographer chronicled the bourgeoning roots of the movement known as rhythm and blues, capturing icons of the genre like Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, Junior Parker, Mahalia Jackson, Della Reese and B.B. King.
Joseph, who was born in Louisiana and moved to Houston at 2 years old, became interested in photography as a teenager. “I think I got my inspiration from when I was in high school,” he said in an interview with The Institute of Texan Cultures. “I had a friend who lived in the neighborhood, he used, I think he was in a chemistry class, he developed film in his bathroom, and I used to go over to his house and I would go in the darkroom, I couldn’t see what he was doing, but, when he’d get through I’d see this roll of film had been developed and, I think, evidently, it was that.”