13 Portraits of Homeless People as They Want to be Viewed (Slideshow)
Photo Credit: Rosie Holtom
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When artist Rosie Holtom began volunteering at Shelter from the Storm, a homeless shelter in London, more that four years ago, her preconceptions about what homeless people looked like were shattered.
“The more time I spent with them I realized there’s a huge disconnect between all the images we get portrayed to us in the media and the people I was meeting,” she said. “People present one image of homeless people, and I wanted to challenge that.”
Holtom sought to create an art project that would capture the character of the homeless people she met, while making the project a collaborative process. After talking with the shelter’s residents extensively, she asked them to pose as they would like to be seen and wear whatever they wanted, and then took their portraits.
The residents chose their best shots, which were then featured in an exhibition held as a fundraiser for the shelter. Holtom also recorded some of their stories, which were anonymously put on one wall of the exhibition. She said that people at the shelter were homeless for a variety of reasons, such as women fleeing domestic violence, young people getting kicked out of their homes, or people who suddenly lost a steady job.
Holtom said that her project, which started out as a small exhibition, has had an amazing response in the media.
“I think it goes to show how this positive imagery needed to be taken,” she said. “We’re bombarded with negative imagery and negative stereotypes, and it’s time people saw some dignified photos because these people may have lost their home, but they’re not defined by their homelessness. They’re still interesting people with interesting stories and experiences.”
The shelter’s residents, she said, also loved the project.
“I think if you spend any time on the streets, you can become invisible quite quickly. So a nice portrait becomes something symbolic,” she said.
Holtom said she hopes the project inspires people “not to judge people, and to understand that times are really tough, especially in big cities at the moment, and homelessness can really happen to anyone.”
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