Teal Portrait Studio

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: March 10, 2021

The Teal Portrait Studio, an influential African-American photography studio that operated in Houston for more than forty years, was established in 1919 by Elnora and Arthur Chester Teal. The studio's quality work, advertised as "photography of a better kind," contributed to its longevity. During the early 1900s, photography studios operated by African Americans generally lasted only a few years, in part because their client base was typically limited to Blacks, while some White photographers were receptive to clients of all races. Elnora Teal's success as a photographer is especially notable: shortly after she entered the field, the 1920 United States census documented only 100 Black female photographers out of a total of 34,867 photographers active in the country at that time. Elnora Teal learned how to take and develop photographs from her husband A. C. Teal, who began his career as an itinerant photographer. They met while he was working in Waco, and subsequently married and settled in Houston. The couple opened a studio at 1111 Andrews Street in 1919; it soon developed a reputation as the best Black photography studio in the city. Houston city directories indicate that the Teals moved their studio to a number of different sites, and frequently ran two studios at the same time. They generally operated in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth wards (see FOURTH WARD and FIFTH WARD), where Houston's Black community was concentrated at that time. According to Lucille B. Moore, an assistant to the Teals from 1925 to 1946, Elnora Teal operated the main studio after her husband opened a second shop, and was no longer considered an assistant to him. A. C. Teal continued to travel around the state throughout his professional career, photographing colleges such as Wylie, Bishop, and Prairie View.

The studio was best known for its excellent portraits, in which the beauty and dignity of the sitter were emphasized. The polished elegance of the Teals' work was prized by their predominantly Black clients. The Teals paid careful attention to the materials and processes used to develop and print their photographs. Some clients preferred Elnora Teal because of her close attention to detail; according to Moore, she bought photographic supplies the way some women bought materials for their fine dresses, electing to use the "silks and linens" of photographic paper. Extant photographs from the firm also include group portraits, news events, advertisements, and candid shots of community activities such as parades and dances. During the mid-1940s the Teals sponsored Teal's School of Photography, which trained prominent photographers such as Benny Joseph. The school was affiliated with the Houston Junior College for Negroes (later Texas Southern University) for some time, probably from 1945 to 1948. After her husband's death in 1955, Elnora Teal continued to run the studio until the mid-1960s. Images by Arthur C. and Elnora Teal are in the collections of Prairie View A&M University and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center.

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Alan B. Govenar, The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: Focus on Houston (Houston: Rice University Press, 1990). Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1985). Dannehl M. Twomey, "Into the Mainstream: Early Black Photography in Houston," Houston Review 9 (1987).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Business
  • Visual Arts
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “Teal Portrait Studio,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/teal-portrait-studio.

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August 1, 1995
March 10, 2021

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