By Erika Weiser
Rich worked in construction before the recession cost him his job.
Then severe arthritis set in, making his joints ache and finding work even harder. When money ran out, he lost his apartment. Life on the streets was his only option. These days, Rich takes odd jobs wherever he can find them. Each day he works to get back on his feet. To his surprise, picking up a camera was a new step forward and gave a different perspective on the world around him.
Teaming up with Lowell’s Brush Art Gallery, The Living Waters Center of Hope armed eight homeless men and women with disposable cameras and asked them to photograph images that depicted their lives.
The Thru My Lens Project, led by Living Waters’ director Diane Waddell, has a dual purpose — to give the community a snapshot of people’s lives and to give the photographer’s a broader sense of how they see themselves.
“We wanted to get not only pictures, but their back story,” Wadell explained. “How did they end up where they are?”
The process, she adds, was an emotional one. For many of the guests at Living Waters, a non-denominational faith-based outreach center, trying to grasp that they had a story worth telling stirred up many different feelings.
“I have a story?” they would ask.
“Everyone has a story,” Waddell would reply. “Even you.”
Ryan White, a coordinator on this unique art project said helping to change the stigma many homeless people face is a key part of the photography.
“Not all of them are drug addicts or lazy,” he said. “Some just fall on hard times.”
Rich admits the experience felt strange at times. Sharing personal aspects of your life, especially when you don’t have a home to call your own, is tough, he said.
But he also hopes to show some people that homelessness, like anything else in life, isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation.
“It hurts when people treat you inferior for being homeless,” he said. “I’m a person just like them.”
Thru-My-Lens will be showing at the Brush Art Gallery on Thursday June 25th from 5pm-8pm