A Bunch Of Homeless People Walked Around New York With Disposable Cameras, And The Photos They Took Are Striking

Laurie Nixon / Through My LensThis picture of soup kitchen The Catholic Worker, taken by Laurie Nixon, is one of the images featured in the show.

In early June, Jason Storbakken distributed disposable cameras to 10 homeless residents of New York City.

Storbakken, the director of chapel and compassionate care at The Bowery Mission and author of “Radical Spirituality: Repentance, Resistance, Revolution,” directed each photographer to capture “things they hoped others might see.”

Here, Storbakken has allowed us to run 17 photos from the project, along with the photographers’ statements.

For more information on the project and the Bowery Mission, visit OneGlimpse.org.


The photos from this project have been curated into a show called 'Through My Lens,' which will spend the next year in various locations around New York City.

'That dog always runs up on me. But she's nice. Her name is Pam.' -- Robert Perry

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First, the show will be displayed at the Bowery Mission Fellowship Hall as a counterpart to the Lower East Side Art Drive, a silent auction of professional artwork held next door at the New Museum on Sunday, December 14.

'This reminds me of my mum -- the lady leg and the big splotch over the rest of her. She left me when I was two.' -- Robert Perry

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The show is dedicated to Robert Perry, the photographer who took the photo below and the two previous, who was hit and killed by a New York City driver earlier this fall.

'I've been homeless on and off since I was twelve. I never really had a bed. This bed looks beautiful … like a dream. I usually sleep in The Bowery Mission or on a park bench or I take the A train to Far Rockaway and back three times and that gets me some sleep. I'm 57 now.' -- Robert Perry

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'We identified 41 photos where the image was really striking or the story was striking -- sometimes it was both,' explains Storbakken.

'This is the grandstand at the Aqueduct. They are keeping the track decent in the off-season. I like to watch the planes land. Kennedy airport is in the background. Watching the planes from the grandstand inspire me to think about travelling -- the quest to travel!' -- Sean Collins

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'Dancing With Daddy'

As the photographers returned with their images, Storbakken sat down with them in his office to do some light editing through web editor Picasa and to add their statements to each photo.

'This was on the subway platform. There is a reggae band in the back singing 'Three Little Birds.' The little girl is dancing with her daddy. Watching this interaction gave me a lot of joy.' -- Sean Collins

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For Laurie Nixon, the photographer who took the below portrait of her friend, participating in this project was the first time she'd ever taken a picture.

'I know Mikey for over twenty years, before he was blind. He used to sell loosies and joints. I was fifteen when we met. He was about forty. He's been around the Bowery since the '80s. When I was on the street he would let me stay at his house sometimes and shower and get something to eat.' -- Laurie Nixon

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'Catholic Worker'

'We're going to show those photos to as many folks as we can,' says Storbakken. 'It's twofold: The first part is to use this artistic expression to minister to our community, to help them go through certain things that they're going through.'

'This is a soup kitchen where you get soup and coffee. It's called Saint Joseph House. When we leave The Bowery Mission we go here.' -- Laurie Nixon

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'Clothing Room'

'The second part,' Storbakken continues, is to try and 'disrupt a lot of the preconceived notions and biases people have regarding the homeless community.'

'This is the clothing room. The first thing people see is the tie rack. It shows people the promise of what could be.' -- Jesse Beyan

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For instance, community member and photographer Irvin Andrew, who took the picture below, holds down a steady job as a restaurant and club host and dresses more fashionably than most people you pass on the street.

'These are two concierges who send me my clients. I host clients at exclusive clubs who hire me. The clients are from out of town, they are quite wealthy, and they want to go to clubs. The clients are like me except with a lot of money -- they are arrogant.

'One time I was hosting an Asian woman from Germany. We were speaking in German and her friend arrived at the club. He was wearing shorts. She said to that man that he looked like he was homeless. I thought to myself that this woman doesn't have a clue about homelessness.' -- Irvin Andrew

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'Favourite Bookstore'

'I'm homeless,' says Andrew, 'but I consider myself a free man. I come and go as I please, I host people, and I enjoy taking care of people.'

'This is my favourite bookstore -- McNally-Jackson. It's on Prince and Mulberry. I love to go there and read.' -- Irvin Andrew

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'How I Dress'

In this photo, Andrew, at right, displays some of his wardrobe.

'This is how I dress.' -- Irvin Andrew

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'Criminal Court'

'When you see photos of homeless people by professional photographers, or by relief organisations, it has the effect of objectifying them,' explains Storbakken. 'It doesn't allow them the agency we'd like to provide them with, to strengthen them and empower them and realise the creative power they have is participance in society.'

'This is the front of Central Booking. The police were taking a person in. It's hard to see him, but he's behind the police car. Every time I see this building and these kinds of situations it is a reminder to stay out of trouble. I've never been in jail and I don't want to go.' -- Frank M. Oquendo

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'Casino Bus'

In fact, Storbakken recalls, many of the photographers found the experience of documenting their daily lives through a camera to be cathartic.

'This bus takes people to Atlantic City. You pay about twelve dollars for a round-trip ticket, but they give you a card with about seventeen dollars on it to gamble, but you can cash it out and make a few bucks. You get to sleep three hours each way and you can also sleep at the casino for a few hours.

'Some guys gamble and when they lose their money they return angry and tired because they stayed up all night. The casino bus is a way to get some sleep, a few bucks, and to get away from the city for a while.' -- Frank M. Oquendo

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'Lunchtime Service'

To print and frame the photos, Storbakken ran a Kickstarter campaign for $US1,000, and through that campaign was contacted by the owner of a signage company willing to donate the signs for the show.

'The guys are standing, waiting to go in for service. It's about lunchtime. I've been coming here since a year after 9/11.' -- Dennis Brown

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'My Carts'

James Winans, chief development officer for the Bowery Mission, has high hopes for the show. 'This is a different group of artists,' he says. 'Not only has the community not recognised their artistic talents, but sometimes they haven't even recognised their talents.'

'That's where I park my cart for scrap. They let me park it there. This is all my scrap and belongings. My personal belongings are in the shopping cart. I hide it by the library sometimes so that I can move around easier. I can make from twenty dollars a day up to two hundred dollars on a really good day.' -- Dennis Brown

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'We hope to disrupt the dominant culture's perspective of those who are too often marginalized,' Storbakken explains.

'People look at me and think I'm weird because I'm homeless. Some homeless people think I'm weird too. So this picture is me turning it back. Look at yourself.' -- Cleveland Gibbs

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'Bed And Locker'

To that end, Storbakken plans to have these photos exhibited in high-traffic city areas such as coffee shops and cafes over the next year. They have already had some inquiries from business owners.

'This is a shelter in Brooklyn where I've been for twenty days. This is how the shelter is set up. You get a bed and locker. I was on the street for four years, except for the winters when I slept in The Bowery Mission. I decided to go into the shelter because I wasn't getting any sleep. If you don't sleep your mind escapes you.' -- Cleveland Gibbs

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