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Sorting through her family’s photos was a monumental task for 42-year-old Mercedes Mallard Paul. Her late mother’s collection totaled in the thousands with boxes upon boxes of photographs, binders of negatives and envelopes fat with Polaroid photos. Along with family friend Deborah Colton, Paul spent more than 10 years sorting and restoring as much as they could.

The collection had worth besides sentiment. Mercedes’ mother, Suzanne Paul, was an acclaimed, born-and-bred Houston photographer, showcasing the rapid change of 20th-century Houston in photographs.

Suzanne, a UH alum and National Endowment for the Arts recipient, died in 2005, but Colton, founder of her own gallery, and Mercedes are showing her latest collection, Proof, part of this year’s sprawling FotoFest.

In Proof, Suzanne Paul’s photographs show artists, curators, gallery directors and others in the Houston art scene in vintage, film negative-esque collages. The photographs, curated by Theresa Escobedo, span the entirety of Paul’s career, from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.

Though the images take place over a wide period of time, they look similar enough to have been taken within days of each other. Proof marks the first time these images have been displayed.

“I think (my mother is) probably the only one that really documented (life in Houston) as real as it gets,” explains Mercedes. “It’s not posing, she went in and photographed the situation.”

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Colton met Paul in 2003, only two years before the photographer died, but the two became so close that Colton became the veritable keeper of Paul’s works. Together with Mercedes the two put together a memorial exhibition within days of Suzanne’s death.

“Suzie always had her camera,” Colton said. “When Suzie was at something, it was really something that was going to be big.”

Thru April 23. Deborah Colton Gallery, 2445 North Blvd. 713-869-5151. deborahcoltongallery.com

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