When I first encountered Jeremy Cowart’s Help Portrait Project (a whole other story on why this guy is the epitome of who I want to become in the near future), an ambitious desire brewed within me to make this my final Photo Project. As an intro student, there really wasn’t much I could get my hands on, and I had no idea how to begin making contact with places in the Ithaca area who would allow me to do this. So I did what I could, and spoke about this project to the people around me, including my photo instructor. By God’s grace, through a series of events, she was able to help me get in touch with the director of a Youth Outreach program who would let me go down several times a week to just take some photos.
Initially, the process started extremely slow since a number of homeless people don’t like to be photographed. And you don’t realize this until you’re in their midst, but most of the time, these homeless people don’t have the token “homeless” look (and another thing I learned was that most of them did networking through Facebook just like the rest of us). Coming into the project, I was still a little skeptical at how a photograph of one’s self can be so life changing. Part of this reason was the lack of initial interest I received. Like I said, the process was slow, and I was behind with my work for a little over a week.
You make all things work together for my good
And then a week later everything would change. Long story short, as I was closing in on my last week of shooting, I was connected with the local soup kitchen where apparently last year, two independent photographers in the area had set up Help Portrait last year. Eventually I was able to set up a day to come in and take their photos, and within the same week, more participants had appeared at the Youth Outreach house I was at. All of a sudden everything was coming together. But the hardest part of the project for me was to no just be another college student doing her homework, but to really invest myself into this project. It became tricky later on separating the part of me that wanted to produce a great final project for class, and the part of me that just wanted to spend time with these individuals.
On my final day of shoot at the soup kitchen, I had the opportunity to meet some really interesting people. Throughout the process, I grew from not knowing how to interact with the homeless people, to becoming a familiar face that would appear every other day. It’s the greatest joy to see their faces light up when I would return with the prints. One of my photographed subject wrote this on a print I had made for myself, and it reads:
All of us go through trials, but what I have learned is simple. There is a prayer by the Tetonwan people called Nitakyye Oyasin, It means All My Relations. Everyone is connected in this web of life, and we are meant to stand together. Working together, creating together, loving together. Not one person is above another nation. Compassion, kindness, love, and humility are the greatest attributes that anyone can ever show. It is when these things come together that i believe the world can truly change. The first step is listening to the silence, because that is where the most stories lie
Spoken like a true soldier.
Finally, I would like to thank the staff at The Learning Web, and Loaves & Fishes for allowing an amateur to poke her head around their lives and for letting me do what little I can to give back. Also, to Emma Lindle for being a tireless helper, from the first day I started blabbering about the project, to the actual day of the shoot.
This is what I meant when I said that I loved finding beauty in the broken, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to be putting my own money and time into projects like these for the rest of my life.