In this photo essay, we share the amazing maritime photography of Houston-based ship pilot & photographer, Lou Vest.
The Houston Ship Channel: Twelve Years, from Bayou to Bay
Photos by Lou Vest.
One of the busiest waterways in the US, the Houston Ship Channel has played a significant role in Texas commerce, culture and politics—even before becoming the foundation of what is now the nation’s fourth largest city in 1836. Originating as a series of frontier trading posts along Buffalo Bayou, the channel extends along the water for over 50 miles southeast through Houston, into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay.
As a dependable route for trade, the Houston Ship Channel has sustained the continued growth of agriculture, manufacturing and other industries—in and outside of Texas—since the mid 1800’s, and has been subject to continuous improvements and expansions since the Port of Houston was officially established in 1842.
The industry built and supported by the channel has attracted a wide variety of domestic and foreign businesses over the years. In fact, the port’s financial and logistical opportunities even influenced NASA’s decision to headquarter the nation’s space program in Houston in 1961.
A hub for international trade, the Port of Houston was the first in the US to introduce container shipping, welcoming 4,500 ships from 61 different nations annually during the 1970s. Today, the port moves over 200 million tons of cargo on over 8,000 vessels, and is consistently ranked 1st in the US for imports, export tonnage and foreign waterborne tonnage. It supports over 1 million jobs throughout Texas and contributes over $4.5 billion in yearly state and local tax revenues from port-related business activities.
While the numbers are impressive, the Houston Ship Channel has even more to offer—namely an often-overlooked creative landscape. Inspired by the culture and daily life in the channel over the last 12 years, photographer and ship pilot Lou Vest has documented the view “from his office window,” capturing rarely seen images of Houston’s ports. His work chronicles grand sea and skyscapes, portraits of colleagues and strangers, and his day-to-day experiences on deck.
We've long been admirers of Lou's photography, and wanted to share with you some of our favorite examples of his perspective on the mighty Houston Ship Channel and the Port of Houston, day to day. Enjoy.
Mark Henry, Boatman
Craig Newkirk piloting on the tanker Montego.
Bobby Kersey, Lineman
Captain Leonard Glass, Houston Pilot
About Lou Vest:
Lou Vest’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Photography, Williams Tower, Allen Center, Houston Public Library, Houston City Hall, and other venues. In 2012, Vest had a solo exhibition at the Houston Arts Alliance Gallery during the FotoFest biennial. He has been named one of Houston’s 100 Creatives and one of Houston’s Ten Best photographers by the Houston Press. His photos are displayed in public buildings, private collections and offices all over the world, featuring a wide variety of subject matter captured wherever his curiosity carries him—whether on board or on land.
Houston Maritime Museum
If you're in Houston, consider visiting the Houston Maritime Museum, which works to capture and preserve the wonder and influence of maritime history and the marine industry with focus on the development of Houston, the Texas Gulf Coast, and the State of Texas. You may support the Museum's work from afar by donating here.