Faces of Homelessness

As a photographer, much of my work deals with individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives. I have engaged in long-term portrait series of Holocaust survivors: Written in Memory: Portraits of the Holocaust; American and Vietnamese War Veterans: From All Sides; and more recently, Pigeon Hill: Then & Now, which pairs portraits I made of individuals residing in Bloomington’s housing projects between 1987-1991 with portraits of the same people made between 2011-2016. In all three series I interview the individuals and include their own words with the portraits. This strategy allows audiences to directly connect faces with stories.

Homelessness is a worldwide problem. Living in downtown Chicago, I am confronted with it every day as I go about my daily life. I see so many different faces, each with a unique and compelling story about how they wound up on the streets requesting money from strangers. Our society is moving in the direction of tearing up the social safety net, which will make the lives of our most vulnerable fellow-citizens that much harder.

I know I can just wander around the streets and photograph, but given the sensitive nature of this subject, I think it’s clearly best to work with organizations that deal with homelessness every day. To this end, I’ve been working with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which has helped me identify individuals to photograph and interview. I’ve learned from CCH and several other Chicago organizations that homelessness takes many more forms than just living on the streets. People live doubled up with friends or family (it is estimated that ~18,000 kids in Chicago Public Schools are technically homeless); in short or long-term shelters; in hospitals. There are homeless veterans; individuals and families who were foreclosed on and evicted; people who had sudden and serious medical expenses that their insurance didn’t cover, wiping out their savings. It is essential that I cover as wide a range of individuals as possible in order to tell a more accurate story.

Along these lines, I’ve begun expanding out to include homelessness in the storied Venice Beach community as representative of some of the unique issues facing the homeless on the west coast. I’ve also begun to explore the issue of rural homelessness, which is yet again, somewhat different than what we see in large urban areas.

My hope is that my photo/text images can contribute to the public conversation about the causes and possible solutions to some of the difficult issues surrounding homelessness.