I'm beginning a project with homeless people for my ARTS 340 Topics in Black and White Photography course at Linfield. I've been interested in doing photojournalism with homeless people since my freshman year of college, but I never did anything. Then I went back home and did some community college, and finally I came back to Linfield this spring/summer in 2017.
One issue surrounding homeless photography is that it has the potential to seem clichè or superficial. It takes a lot more time to actually do it right, so this is going to have multiple phases over the next few months.
So to make this worthwhile and actually engage with people rather than objectify or document their lives from the outside/tourist angle, I'm going to collaborate with people. They'll get to decide what sort of image I make.
The first idea was to create Christmas cards showing the assortment of people living together with their new families. People meet others in similar situations and help each other survive. Capturing these bonds at this time of the year feels most appropriate in the form of a Christmas card. Then they'd write a message on the photo, and I would pay for postage to send it somewhere.
But some people might want something else. Maybe they don't like the idea of a portrait. Or maybe they don't celebrate Christmas. I would prefer to have a strictly consistent theme of portraits, but that isn't very collaborative and forces my goals onto others.
My professor suggested leaving it open to whatever they want. In this way, I'm on assignment to create an image for them. Perhaps they would like a traditional Christmas card. Or maybe they want their pet photographed. Or a landscape shot. Literally anything. The only restriction is that it has to be meaningful, and I need them to communicate why it's important.
Jim Goldberg did a project called Rich and Poor, and people wrote on their images, describing what they saw in themselves. And my instructor did a project called Dualities, where people with bipolar disorder would write on a pair of images—one while happy, the other while sad.
Borrowing from this concept, I'm hoping to break down the isolation and show a personal side to these people's lives. There's a strong desire to ignore homeless people, but by making the photographs personal, I'm hoping that more affluent persons can understand and connect to the homeless. Currently, there is a lot of tension, and some of it is justified, but I'm afraid that there isn't much talk of solutions.
Getting involved is critical, so I can help communicate what is happening and learn more about ways to make changes in their lives. If I had to make a policy today, I would create free housing somewhere, just so people could recover and rest and be safe. During that time, people would have a chance to improve their health while the city and community explored options for creating jobs. There are plenty of things that we could pay people to do. Or there could be a way to help train people for various jobs. Many people are capable of working in actual jobs. I'm not suggesting that we pay people for simple tasks like raking leaves
Creating a safe environment, essentially an apartment complex shelter, is the only way to give people a chance to get back on their feet. These thoughts represent my current understanding, so I'm hoping to learn more and have a positive impact on others' lives.