Connecting Humanity: Faces of the Homeless
About The Project:
In the fall of 2012, I took a Visual Anthropology class with Stockton Professor Joe Rubenstein, in which I was asked to participate in a project with a few other students. Outside of class time, we would go to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and an outreach worker, Alex Siniari, would aid us in taking photos of the homeless. The photographs were then displayed in the Noyes Museum of Art alongside oil painter Seth Camm's work and Frank Weiss's video documentary of the homeless. (Some of these photos are displayed as well.)
This school project gave so much more meaning to photography for me. The thing that I love about photography is being able to give photos to others who can cherish them, make them feel beautiful, and capture moments that remind them of their own happiness... but this opened my eyes to another use for photography. I realized that I could use photography to raise an awareness, and to have an impact on others for a higher intrinsic value. I treasured these photos that I took because it connected others to people they never imagined they would be connected to, and that alone was powerful for me.
In the fall of 2013, Theresa Mobilio from the Melting Pot of Atlantic City contacted me about having an event for my photography after having started a photography website and Facebook page, and I was floored that they wanted to host an event based around my photography. I thought about what type of work I would want to print for the exhibit that I would invite my friends and family too, and realized that we could take this opportunity for an event and make it in to so much more. Rather than having an event revolving around a cluster of my random photographic work including portraits and scenery shots, I wanted to focus the event on a focused project and fill it with meaning... and my mind jumped back to the time I had photographed the homeless for a school project. I asked Theresa if we could have the photo exhibit event shift towards a project and perhaps donate a percentage of drink bar sales to a relevant organization, and she thought it was a wonderful idea. And so I began my pursuit of photographing the homeless of Atlantic City. Neither of us had any idea what the project would morph into at the time.
I immediately contacted Alex, the outreach worker who had aided my plight of taking photographs before, and he jumped right on to the idea, eventually becoming my full partner in the project. That next week was the week of finals, my last finals in college, and we met to begin the project. For the next month and a half, Alex brought me around Atlantic City connecting me to his resources and introducing me to his connections in the homeless community. I met countless workers and homeless who all became a part of my photographic journey. Officer Wenz from the Atlantic City police force would drive me around in his car and included me in a 6am sweep underneath the boardwalk in the cold month of December, and Jennifer Williams from the Covenant House invited me in to their organization to photograph some of the homeless children that they provide shelter and more for. I was amazed at all the services that are available and the lengths that the people involved go to help the homeless. I took notes and photographed every opportunity I had, and it made my heart grow and my mind open every step of the way.
The event on January 19th came together with the help of our loving community and many individuals who worked hard. For the days before the event, my boyfriend Scott Fisher, Amphibia Apparel owner, helped me cut, print and construct materials including posters, donation boxes, email sign up sheets, and more. Kathryn Roberts, a long-time good friend of mine, was elected the treasurer of the event and worked hard the entire night, staying organized. Businesses such as Hoys, 7th St. Surf Shop, Heritage Surf Shop, The Peanut Shop, Johnson's Popcorn, Shrivers, Dee Lugo's Family Wine Business, Hi-Tech Salon and Spa, Jagielsky's, Grace and Glory Yoga, the Sheraton, Ward's Bakery, The Melting Pot, The Tanger Outlet Shops, Clearly Faded Clothing and Amphibia Apparel all donated baskets and gift certificates, that were raffled with the help of my grandfather, "Pops." Troy Smith, a fellow photographer, documented the night. The Press, NBC40, Susan Allen from Stockton, and other amazing writers contributed their time to write stories to generate interest and coverage of the event. And Laura Szklarski and ARGO (Alex Siniari's band) provided their musical talent throughout the night. We even had a speaker, a boy from the Covenant House, who spoke on behalf of the program. The new mayor of Atlantic City, Don Guardian, even attended, whom I had photographed the week prior! We had so much help from friends, family, and the Melting Pot in setting up for the event. And all in all, it came together to form a fabulous night, in which we not only raised awareness, but also $2,700 to go towards two homeless services in Atlantic City-- the Rescue Mission and the Covenant House.
I thought my heart might burst at all the love and support by my friends, family, and outright strangers in the name of this cause and my photography. Hands down, this has been one of the most amazing, treasured things I have done in my life, and will ever do, and I couldn't have done it without the encouragement, support, love, and help of everyone involved. This is a HUGE thank you to you all.
To be able to give back to the community through my passion for photography is truly humbling. I hope this inspires others to use their talents and passions to give back in their own unique ways, and I hope this project makes everybody look at the homeless and less fortunate a little differently. Rather than taking for granted the things that we do have and walking past a homeless person on the streets, I hope to inspire people to look differently at this issue. In viewing these photos, I hope you feel connected to these human beings and recognize the innate similarities in us all... we all know what it feels like to be alone, to laugh, to cry, to smile, to be hungry or cold, to love or to fall apart. We are all human. After all, we are all connected through our humanity, and there is a way, and a duty, for everybody to give back to others.
Check out the press coverage here:
Along with the awareness efforts, the $2,700 that was raised has been donated to the Rescue Mission of Atlantic City and the Covenant House in Atlantic City. Where does the money that we raised go to? Check out this video of Rescue Mission outreach worker Alex Siniari and Officer Wenz, who both aided me in taking all of the photos for the project. During the "code blue" in Atlantic City, they helped get as many homeless out of the colder and in to shelter as possible. Thanks for making their jobs possible!