Few Houston-area photographers have made the kind of mark as Pam Francis. The Houston native shot countless, iconic celebrities in the nation for myriad publications over more than three decades. Fittingly, her work is being showcased at University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum now through April 26.
“Pam Francis: Photographs” spans more than 30 years of her career, from 1987-2020, boasting more than 100 photographs and artifacts including her artist’s camera, selected slides, contact sheets, CDs, films, and ephemera, according to a press release. The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue designed by Miko McGinty.
Beloved for her charm and demeanor as much as her photographic skills, Francis shot notable Houstonians for Texas Monthly including Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News anchor; Oscar Wyatt, founder and CEO of Coastal Corporation; and Texas Lt. Governor, William “Bill” Hobby, Jr.
Notably, Francis was ahead of the trend in capturing hip-hop talent, as the lead Houston photographer for XXL, the New York-based-hip-hop magazine. She took portraits of UGK’s (Underground Kingz- formed by Pimp C and Bun B) Grammy-nominated album Dirty Money. Rap legend Bun B appreciated her understanding of the formation of Southern rap in Houston.
“She was seeing that, all of a sudden, she was getting a lot of work to shoot rappers in Houston. I think she is just a great example of a Texan,” Bun B noted in a statement. “Using her talent to benefit other Texans. She was trying to make all of us look the best that we can.”
Music was indeed a staple for Francis, as she shot the “Houston Texans Got Tickets” billboard campaigns. Her subjects included local legends Lyle Lovett, Destiny’s Child, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard of ZZ Top, Roger Clemens, and President George HW Bush and first lady Barbara Bush.
“You don’t just see the subject, you see the subject responding to Pam,” Lovett said in a statement. “First and foremost, she was, technically, a great photographer. She knew it. But that’s not enough. Pam was able to bring herself to her knowledge of photography and it was a wonderful combination.”
“While Francis’ portraits have been on the covers of Texas Monthly, Time, Business Week, XXL, Source, and Sports Illustrated, her work has not yet had the critical attention to be comprehensively studied and celebrated until now,” said Christine Starkman, guest curator of the exhibition, in a press release.
Prolific as she was, Francis, who passed away in 2020, is remembered for the joy she brought to those she documented. “She was a kind of walking, breathing, nuclear power plant of energy,” Rather noted. “She never asked me to pose or do anything unusual. She listened, she asked some questions, she struck up an immediate rapport with me and made me very, very comfortable.”
Works in the show are a gift from her family; specifically from Welcome Wilson, Sr., the former chairman of the University of Houston System Board of Regents.
For more information on the exhibition and direction, visit the Blaffer Art Museum website.