The initial idea for this project was birthed after a pro-bono project for United Way of Mesa County in Western Colorado and United Way of the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts in the 1990’s. I originally photographed the homeless population in large community rooms and, in the case of the Friends of the Homeless shelter in Massachusetts, in their cinder block rooms.
Through this work, and particularly in listening to the participants talk about their lives, I began to realize that bringing their stories together with photos would be a powerful way to give homeless people a voice, as their lives seem to be largely misunderstood by the general public. However, in the 1990’s, the technology for bringing this to fruition was awkward and expensive.
In June of 2010, I was asked to photograph the homeless population at the HomewardBound Shelter in Grand Junction, CO. With this work, I chose to photograph the participants in front of a white background to eliminate place, thereby emphasizing the tiniest gesture, their clothing and expression. Since it had always been my intention to record the stories of the people I was photographing, I considered current technology, did some research, and confirmed that the technology to bring digitally recorded voices to a photography exhibit had come of age.
To date, my son, Robin, and I have recorded and/or photographed over 65 people and families. Our interview technique consisted of 3 questions: "What lead to your homelessness, what is it like to live in a shelter, and how do you feel people perceive you?" The interviews turned out to be cathartic in nature, as many experienced grief and tears as they relived their stories. The last question in the process was particularly potent in this regard.
The show opened at the Whitman Education Center in Grand Junction, Colorado. The exhibit then moved around to various venues in Colorado including St. Mary’s Hospital, Western Colorado Center for The Arts, The Grand Junction City Council Building, churches, etc. After the exhibits with HomewardBound, Robin and I pitched the project to Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless. While there was interest in the project, the pivotal call came from Sherry Cole at Grand Valley Peace and Justice in January 2015. In becoming the administrator of the project, Grand Valley Peace and Justice has been instrumental in breathing new life into the exhibit. Under the auspices of Sherry, and Julie Mamo, director, the exhibit continues it's growth and metamorphosis to gain the exposure it deserves. Robin and I continue to record the stories and photograph the faces of the homeless in America.
~ Stevan Maxwell
The stories contained herein have been edited down in length. Extended versions are offered with the full exhibit experience.
All images © Stevan Maxwell 2016