By: Shelley McKinley

As the President of Provost Studios LLC, a 76-year old Black-owned business that survived racial integration and advancements in photography when others did not, Mrs. Provost credits the strong foundation that her late husband laid, as well as their teamwork as a family for their success as a well-respected business that has been a fixture among leaders at the international, national, state, and local levels.


Provost and Associates will celebrate 50 years at their current location in August 2024, and have seen photography change from black-and-white photos developed in a dark room, to digital photography now. They embrace change. Mrs. Georgia Provost’s love for people, photography, philanthropy, Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church, and Texas Southern University are evident in her talk, attire, and pictures that adorn Provost & Associates Photography Studio.


Herbert Provost attended Texas Southern University, during which time he studied under A. C. Teal at the Teal School of Photography in Houston, Texas. He then served in the U. S. Navy during World War II. That year he enrolled in an 18-month course at the Progressive School of Professional Photographers in New Haven, Connecticut to continue his education in photography. Returning to Houston in 1947, Provost interned for portraits under Paul Gittings and interned for commercial photography under Lawless and Sons.


In 1948, Provost opened his own studio. Georgia Provost, 20 years younger than her husband and once a fashion model, explained, “We met at Park Theater on Dowling Street. The rest is history! We got married in 1963.” She organized models for a show that Herbert photographed soon after meeting him. “He was featured in Ebony Magazine as ‘Bachelor of the Year’ but I was attracted to his wisdom.” Once a student at Texas Southern University studying to become a dietician, she changed her major to photography, noting that there was more money to be made behind the lens than in front of it.


Their son, Jerome Provost, had his own quasi-internship in sixth grade when the instant Polaroid camera and film emerged. “My husband bought two Polaroid cameras and film for the cameras and gave them to Jerome saying ‘He’ll never have to ask us for money again.’” Laughing, Mrs. Provost recalled, “Later he asked Jerome, ‘Where’s my commission?” It has been a family business ever since. Integration proved to be a challenge that they overcame together. For some, integration simply meant going to restaurants and hotels where they were previously banned, but it hurt Black businesses economically. Dollars that circulated in the community and allowed Black businesses to employ other Black people went elsewhere. Prior to integration, Provost Studios provided photography services for 85% of Black schools in Texas, as well as Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Texas and Louisiana. After integration they lost most of that business.


As Georgia Provost prepared herself to work at Gulf Oil in the service station leasing department, her husband traveled to go find new business. He returned with high school contracts that included photography, as well as yearbooks, caps and gowns, graduation invitations, and class rings. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, so they found Intercollegiate Press in Kansas to fulfill their contracts.


Eventually, at the recommendation of Linus Wright who was the chief financial officer for the Houston Independent School District at the time, Black principals in Houston began seeking the services of Provost Studios again. Although business came back, Mrs. Provost still expresses concern over the academic gains that were also lost in the Black community after integration. “Kids could read because they had caring teachers and exceptional principals. Currently, 27% of mothers don’t have a high school diploma or GED. So many homes have no reading materials. Children have no access to newspapers, books, or magazines. Children imitate what they see,” explained Provost.


“My husband believed that if you have a business, you have to give back.” Herbert Provost volunteered as TSU’s tennis coach from 1966-1980. President Jimmy Carter, known for his love of tennis, invited Coach Provost and his team to go to Nigeria and represent the USA. Coach Provost agreed if he could take the entire tennis team. As Mrs. Provost stated, “I love people. Black, White, and Jewish people worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to advance civil rights.” That love of diversity seemed to have been the blueprint for Provost Studios as well as the work that Mrs. Provost does now to raise funds for projects that are dear to her heart.


Therefore, it makes sense that the Helfman Provost Fundraising Team have led two or three fundraisers a month for the past 35 years. They have raised money for KTSU, the TSU Debate Team, HPD, HFD, and countless other organizations throughout Houston. The partnership formed at a fundraiser for A.B. Chambers, the first African-American constable in Harris County, has impacted as many people as the number of dollars they’ve raised. Students and programs at TSU, Rice University, and Houston Christian University have also benefited from the efforts of this dynamic duo. Georgia Provost is a member of the Rotary Club of Hermann Park. She served as their president for two years, and is currently the treasurer. As Georgia Provost shared, their motto is “Service Before Self.

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