Archive for Photography

Humane Exposures: The Beginning

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Someone looking at our books and our film for the first time might as well ask how we got started down this particular path.

The roots of Humane Exposures go back 15 years and begin with Susan Madden Lankford’s interactions with the homeless. Having managed a successful portrait studio for years, she has decided that she wanted to do more. Renting the Seaport Village Jail, she then began photographing the homeless and collecting their narratives. Since many of those had involved incarceration, it was only natural that Lankford’s next step be touring the seven main jails in the area.

That tour brought her to Las Colinas, the county’s only all-women jail. It was then that Lankford has realized that prison reform is urgently needed, and decided to share the inmate’s situation with a the public in hopes of spurring that reform.

Mark Arner, a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune, reported on the resulting book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes (also on Facebook) back when it was released in 2008:

Thirteen years ago, an inmate at the county’s only all-female jail said something startling to San Diego photographer Susan Madden Lankford.

‘Hey Susan, I have something to tell you: I found maggots in my sweet potatoes last week,’ Lankford said the inmate told her.

While her subsequent tour of the jail’s kitchen facilities revealed only clean surfaces and safe food, that one comment stuck with Lankford and became the title of the book. Here is Arner’s brief description of the book from the same article:

The 284-page book describes how Lankford obtained Kolender’s permission for the project in the mid-1990s. Primarily in 1995 and 1996, she conducted interviews and took black-and-white photographs of inmates, guards and jail overseers.

The book features 326 of those images, as well as journal entries and letters from several inmates from 1997 to 1999, research on domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, and a section on white-collar crime.

Since then, we have released a book of Lankford’s homeless photography, downTownUSA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, and have even branched out into the realm of video with our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. All of these projects relate to an interelated set of issues:

  • Incarceration is often a factor in homelessness.
  • Education and early home life have a huge influence on children and are negative early environments, often contributing to the future criminal activity.
  • Patterns of abuse and neglect cycle through generations.
  • If we shift our societal focus to actual rehabilitation into society, we can not only impact homelessness but also greatly reduce the state expenditures incurred. For example, if homeless people had access to health care, it would cut millions in emergency services costs accrued over the course of a year.

Later this year we will be releasing Born, Not Raised: Kids at Risk, in which we will explore the troubled psyches of youngsters serving time in juvenile hall. Without education and other humane assistance, many of these youth will be caught in the revolving door of institutionalization.

All of these projects relate to each other and, taken together, try to present, one aspect at a time, the complex and interrelated nature of the societal breakdowns they address.

So, tell us, how did you discover Humane Exposures, and when? We’d love to know!

Source: “A Portrait of Jail Life,” The San Diego Union Tribune, 09/23/08
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potates: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.
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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • InvisiblePeople.tv — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the InvisiblePeople.tv in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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“Pregnant in Prison”: A Photographer’s View of Valley State Prison

CellMark Allen Johnson started shooting images in 2003. Since then, he has done photography for a stunning array of clients including Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Economist, and VIBE. In addition he, like all photographers, pursues his own projects. It is one of those we’d like to speak of today: Pregnant in Prison.

On his website, Johnson gives the following description of the show:

With nearly four thousand inmates, Valley State Prison (VSP), located in Chowchilla, California is the world’s largest prison for women. At any given time, approximately 120 are pregnant on average each month. With over 340 babies born annually to female prisoners in VSP, only a handful of these children are able to avoid separation from their mothers. The State of California operates three mother-infant prisoner programs that allow those who qualify to live in a low level prison setting with their newborn if the duration of their sentence is less than six years. With as few as 75 beds in the program, prisoners are forced to give up their babies for adoption or foster care, or, in some cases, they give parental custody to friends or relatives. Since the majority of inmates come from poor backgrounds where friends and family members have also been incarcerated or involved in criminal activity, their children might be raised in the same environment as their lawbreaking parents.

This is sad, sad information to digest. Just imagine: 340 babies a year and only 75 beds in the mother-infant program. That leaves over three quarters of the incarcerated new mothers without an option. Things get worse from there. Johnson writes:

Unlike prisons for men, the VSP does not segregate their female inmates by level of crime committed, ultimately creating a dangerous atmosphere for the convicts. All levels of criminals — from petty thieves to murderers — are mixed together, including the inmates who are pregnant.

Take a moment to consider this. You’ve been picked up for some minor infraction, and immediately get thrown in the tank with a wide variety of violent offenders. It does not take much cognition to see how chaotic and dangerous this environment can be. Johnson continues:

‘At VSP you cannot show emotion, you cannot make friends easily, and you can never trust anyone. Being pregnant does not give you better treatment,’ a pregnant inmate complains. A common verbal threat towards pregnant inmates might be, ‘Your face isn’t pregnant, bitch, so I can punch you there!’

Johnson, as is standard with many photographers, keeps a tight reign on the use of his images. As a result, we cannot show you any here in this post. We do recommend visiting his website, the Pregnant in Prison gallery in particular, where you can see the images Johnson had created during his visit to the VSP.

Once more, the camera “sees” what is often invisible to a human eye. We are looking forward to Johnson’s next project!

Source: “Pregnant in Prison,” RelentlessPhoto.com

Image by miss_millions, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Photographing Guantanamo

Ex-Detainee's HomeWe cover a lot of prison issues on this blog. However, up till now, we’ve yet to touch on one of the most infamous prisons in modern American history — Guantanamo.

Award-winning photographer Edmund Clark is preparing to launch a show at the Flowers Gallery in London that features this very prison. The show is titled Guantanamo — If The Light Goes Out, and it takes a slightly different approach than the other photographers we’ve written about.

While most of the photographers we cover are working with images of inmates or the homeless, Clark purposefully has no humans in his photos. The photos are mostly of Guantanamo itself, with the images of the homes of some of the ex-detainees mixed in, giving a jolting dose of perspective.

When asked by Loredana D’Andrea at the London entertainment website Spoonfed about why he did not include portraits, Clark said:

I find that a lot of photographic portraits, you’re not really saying anything. All that’s going to happen is that the viewer’s preconceptions are going to bounce back at them. Some of the ex-detainees wouldn’t have taken part if I wanted to photograph them. I was absolutely adamant that this wasn’t journalistic; I just wanted to work in their homes.

I also think if I produced a set of portraits of ex-detainees from Guantanamo, most of whom are of Pakistani, Middle Eastern, African origin, I think a lot of people would look at those and say, ‘ooh look that’s what a terrorist looks like.’ The portraits would be completely dehumanised. They wouldn’t actually say anything about the individual — the spaces are much more evocative.

Addressing his first point, we must agree that there are many times when portraits don’t “speak” to the viewer. That is why we try to find and share with you those that do. It’s one of the reasons why we tend to look at creators like Susan Madden Lankford, who add elements of personal narrative to their works. The combination of the image and the subjects’ own words helps dispel the effect of reinforcing preconceptions.

As to Clark’s second point, it makes perfect sense. Removing the people themselves and simply presenting the context is a good way to communicate the message while (hopefully) managing to avoid the racial stereotypes that attend the issue.

In Clark’s own words:

[...T]he work ‘is not about monumentalising the historical fact of the camps, but evoking the experience of individuals caught up in events in a backwater of Cuba.’

And that, truly, is the important part — the human condition, the experiences of a daily life gone horribly off the rails.

We’d like to wish Edmund Clark success, not only with his art show but also with the release of his new book, Gunatanamo, If The Light Goes Out, which is due in November following the opening. To keep up with the news about the book and the show, check out Clark’s Facebook Page.

Source: “Guantanamo, If The Light Goes Out – An interview with Edmund Clark,” Spoonfed, 09/24/10
Image copyright by Edmund Clark, used with permission.

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Margaret Miles Brings The Faces and Voices of the Homeless to Minneapolis Gallery

logoPhotography is a powerful tool for getting across the humanity behind the major issues of the day. Of course, at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we’re well familiar with that thanks to our own Susan Madden Lankford’s work presented in downTownUSA and Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to introduce our readers to the works of other artists who address similar issues.

Margaret Miles in one of those artists, even though she herself is not a photographer. Miles is the development director for St. Stephens Shelter in Minneapolis. Back in 2008, she began collecting personal narratives from the homeless, joining forces with photographers Larry Levante and Kris Drake in the process. It all started at the annual Project Homeless Connect, an event designed to provide a one-stop shop for the homeless where they can meet and work with a wide variety of service providers.

This month, the Burnet Gallery in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis hosted the show titled “Homeless is my address, not my name.” Roughly 70 portraits of homeless people line the chic gallery’s walls. Beneath almost a third of them appear the phone numbers. If a patron calls the number under a photo, he or she can hear the voice of the photo’s subject tell his or her own story. (It’s reminiscent of the photo-and-audio approach used by Robert Gumpert — we’ve written about on this blog.)

Euan Kerr of the Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Miles about the show. This exchange in particular is worth listening to:

The point is to show the breadth and depth of the homeless population and the myriad of reasons which can lead to someone being on the streets.

Miles points to a picture of Nathan, from Liberia. He worked his way through the immigration system to get to the U.S. legally. The trouble was once he got here, he never learned he needed to get a drivers license. He got a car, a driving job and soon after a whole bunch of tickets.

‘Try as he might try and figure out what he needed to do, he was put in prison for driving without a license,’ Miles says.

Out of prison, he found himself without a home. Nathan smiles broadly in the his picture but Miles says he wanted to make a serious point.

‘He’s very clear in saying, ‘I’ve never been addicted to anything. It’s not the stereotype you that you think,” Miles says.

We advise listening to the MPR piece — that way, you can experience for yourself the fact that hearing these stories in the original voice is both a powerful and moving experience. It rehumanizes people who have been reduced to naughts or ciphers by being removed from the main flow of society.

Miles is currently lining up shows at corporate galleries, as well as at the Hennepin County Government Center. Long-range plans include bringing the show to our nation’s capital. In the meantime, she has received a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment to begin collecting narratives in the more rural parts of the state. Let us all wish her luck with reaching out to the larger and larger audiences with this material!

Source: “Voices of the homeless featured in Mpls. photography show,” MPR News, 09/15/10
Logo Image courtesy of Margaret Miles, used with permission.

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Photo + Narrative: Prison Photographer Robert Gumpert

Locked and Found

Those familiar with our work here at HUMANE EXPOSURES are aware that we believe that images, combined with personal narratives, are the best way to communicate the ongoing crisis occurring in the American penal system. Susan Madden Lankford’s second book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time, demonstrates that approach very well. There are, however, other socially conscious photographers out there doing similar things.

One of them is Robert Gumpert. Much like Lankford, he aims his camera at the inequities of life, including incarceration. He carries things one step further though. The personal narratives attached to each photo are not written, they are playable recordings of the inmates’ own words and voices. Here is the short description from Gumpert’s website:

Work on ‘Locked and Found’ started in 2006. Any prisoner in the San Francisco County Jail system can take part telling any story, on any topic they choose but for an open case. Those who take part in ‘Locked and Found’ get photos and an audio copy of their story.

The picture we used in the post, for instance, is of Shanika Perkins. It was taken last March, and, along with, two recordings were made. The two audio clips are only a few minutes long, one is called “20 Years,” and the other one is “They’re sexy to me.”  The first one reflects on the substance abuse issues that had brought Perkins to jail, how incarceration has jumpstarted her writing, and her first forays into Buddhism. The second one is Perkins’ own perspective on her (primarily “jailhouse”) tattoos and their meaning. [Listen here, the play buttons are underneath the photo.]

Gumpert explores other social issues with his images as well. In the first half of 2003, he produced a series of works for the Institute of Industrial Relations Gallery at Berkeley called Field Work. It is described on the Institute’s website as follows:

‘Field Work’ is one of a series of projects that hopefully raise questions in the viewer’s mind about relationships in the world we live in. In this case the subject is agriculture and those that work the fields. All the images are from California, where half of the nation’s vegetables and fruits are grown, including 85% of the strawberries and 95% of the tomatoes used in processed foods. The photo/text panels illustrate the harvesting of specialty crops such as asparagus, romaine lettuce, pomegranates, garlic, and cotton, and together tell the story of the political economy of agriculture and of the field workers that form the labor backbone of this industry with falling wages and increased corporate subsidies.

Ryan Hinckson, a writer for TrendHunter.com, was quite impressed with a photo series Gumpert did on the subject of prison tattoos and their meanings:

Whether you are interested in it for the tattoos, the look at prison culture or because of a love of photography, the Robert Gumpert ‘American Prison Tattoos’ photo series will not disappoint.

Check out Gumpert’s work — it will make you think.

Source: “Take a Picture, Tell a Story,” Take a Picture, Tell a Story
Source: “Robert Gumpert,” RobertGumpert.com
Source: “Exploring Inmate Ink,” TrendHunter
Image copyright Robert Gumpert, from the show “Locked and Found.” Used with permission.

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Photo Exhibit Documents Homeless Vets in Minnesota

Put on by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF), a photography show called “Portraits of Home II: Veterans in Search of Shelter in Greater Minnesota” uses art and documentation to put human faces to the tragedy of our street population. The attitude and the ethical concepts behind the exhibit are stated on the GMHF website:

Art, especially photography, can be a powerful tool for increasing public awareness of the affordable housing crisis facing people in Greater Minnesota. Photographs personalize the human impacts of poor housing conditions and homelessness. They capture the dignity and resiliency of people managing everyday life with few resources and the positive changes that can occur with stable housing. Greater Minnesota Housing Fund is making this compelling exhibit available to local communities throughout 2009 and 2010 in order to touch the hearts and minds of policymakers, local leaders and residents, and to inform these stakeholders of the specific actions they can take to address the housing challenges faced by a growing number of Minnesota families.

The show seems to be doing a good job of generating discussion of the issue. Currently at Winona State University, it was written up in the Winona Daily News:

Ruth Charles, a WSU professor, helped coordinate the event. She hopes the exhibit serves as ‘a piece of education’ and ‘makes the connection’ to viewers that all too often troops are not supported when they return home.

The photos capture an ‘incredibly important piece of history,’ especially right now, as ‘we’ll have a tsunami of veterans coming back to the states’ from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Stormi Greener, a freelance photographer whose work is on display in the exhibit.

One veteran whose photo appears in Minne Hall was deployed to Iraq for 22 months, during which time the house he had been living in was sold. Photographer Brian Lesteberg captures the veteran sitting in the open trunk of his car, where he has been living for more than three months.

We obviously believe in the power of art, image and narrative as catalysts for change. Just take a look at our published offerings. It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and, in cases like these, we’d say that it’s certainly true. You can quote the dismal statistics of the situation, or you can show someone a picture of a child living on the streets. All too often, it’s the image that catches people’s attention first, and that’s why shows like this one are vitally important.

Take a look at Susan Madden Lankford’s downTown USA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, or Deborah Luster‘s “One Big Self” to see how much humanity can be communicated by a simple photograph. And, really, that is what is so often absent — simple humanity. While walking past a homeless person in the street, most people have trained themselves to look away, but that same reflex does not occur when they’re looking at photos. We would wager that viewing photos like this provides the first in-depth perception of homelessness for more than a few people.

Source: “Portraits of Home II,” Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, undated
Source: “WSU photo exhibit shines a light on homeless veterans,” Winona Daily News, 09/17/10
Image by NAME, used under its Creative Commons license

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Susan Madden Lankford to Host Encinitas Library Food Drive

downTown USA: A Personal Journey with The HomelessAs part of its Third Wednesday Series, the Friends of the Encinitas Library presents our own Susan Madden Lankford this Wednesday, September 15, at 6:30 p.m. Lankford will host the library’s annual food drive for the Encinitas Community Resource Center’s Food Program. The library staff will be collecting non-perishable food items at the event, so we encourage you to bring donations.

Additionally, we would like to thank KPBS for the kind words about Susan in its article that announced the food drive:

Lankford’s penetrating photographs, rich personal narrative, and candid interviews are supplemented by contributions from the street people themselves, creating a compelling portrait of a population at risk. Susan will be exhibiting photography from both of books — ‘downTown U.S.A.‘ [link is ours] and ‘Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.’

Here is a taste of what you will be in for:

Please join us at the Encinitas Library, and bring some canned goods! The event is free and open to the public. The address is: 540 Cornish Dr. in Encinitas [Google Map].

Source: “Susan Madden Lankford, Author & Photojournalist, Hosts Food Drive,” KBPS, 09/15/10
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“It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing” Screens at the Newburyport Film Fest

Newburyport Documentary Film FestivalThe Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, now in its third year, presents 20 films. Three judges will rate the films in a number of juried categories, and, in addition, an audience-adjudicated award will also be given.

This year, one of those films will be It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing from our very own Humane Exposures Films. The film is directed by the award-winning Alan Swyer, who is known for work ranging from The Buddy Holly Story to the recent documentaries such as Béisbol: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which he has worked on with Andy Garcia.

It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing is executive-produced by Susan Madden Lankford, and is rooted in her work on downTown: USA and Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes. Here’s a sample of what the film has to offer: This is the trailer from the Humane Exposures Films YouTube Channel:

In his advance praise for It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing, Dr. Bruce Perry sums up the film with an almost Twitter-like brevity:

‘It makes long term economic sense to try and take care of these people in a humane way, and help them heal.’ – Bruce Perry, MD, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Child Trauma Academy

Experts agree that the film’s portrayal of our criminal justice system points to the need for and to the effectiveness of rehabilitation-oriented approaches over simple incarceration, especially when the critical aspect of recidivism is taken into full account:

‘In examining the indisputably recidivistic nature inherent in the contemporary practice focusing on the institutionalization of criminal offenders and comparing it with the documented potential found in numerous remedial programs that return nonviolent past offenders to society as self-sufficient and productive citizens, the documentary film ‘It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing’ makes a compelling case that more than justifies its factual title.’ – John Dean, author and former White House counsel

You can see It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing, as well as a host of other important works in the documentary genre, on September 24 through 26 in the historic downtown Newburyport, MA. The two venues, The Screening Room and The Firehouse Center for the Arts, will be the site of the film screenings during the film fest.

If you find yourself in MA on those dates, come on down and check out the film! It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing will be screened on Sunday, September 26, at 2:00 PM at The Screening Room. If you don’t want to take a chance on missing it, you can purchase tickets in advance.

Source: “Films Selected This Year,” Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, 09/10
Logo of The Newburyport Documentary Film Festival is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Susan Madden Lankford Interviewed by Poverty Insights

Our very own Susan Madden Lankford was recently interviewed on Poverty Insights. For those unfamiliar with the website, here is a synopsis from its history page:

On September 21st, 2004, PATH Partners CEO Joel John Roberts founded LA’s Homeless Blog, the first blog to offer commentary solely focused on homelessness issues as they unfolded locally and nationally. Five years later, his blog has reached over 700,000 unique readers, has been featured in national media such as AOL/Netscape and Affordable Housing magazine and was ranked as one of the top homelessness blogs by The Daily Reviewer.

That was the first phase of the website’s evolution. Having experienced such amazing success, Roberts decided to expand the operation and extend the conversation:

To encourage more extensive dialogue around the issues of housing, poverty and homelessness, LA’s Homeless Blog has expanded to become Poverty Insights. The new format still features regular commentary from Joel John Roberts, but now also includes the perspectives of experts and community members throughout the United States. Our contributors’ diverse insights promote discussion, debate and the creation of new tactics to end homelessness.

Cali Zimmerman, the Communications Coordinator for PATH Partners, penned the article which ran in Poverty Insights on September 2. Her exploration of Lankford’s work begins with a mention of a tragic accident that has occurred almost two decades ago:

Four local teenage boys got high and were involved a terrible car accident right outside her family’s property in San Diego. All of the boys were students at her daughters’ high school. One of the boys died in the accident.’It was a harsh reality as a young mother with three girls. This was their high school,’ Lankford said. ‘It took me into very sharp focus internally.’

This change in mindset was followed by an unexpected event that has influenced the course of Lankford’s work to this day:

At the time, Lankford was a commercial photographer. Not long after the accident, she went to an old, empty jail with the thought that she might use it for some commercial shots. To her surprise, several homeless people followed her into the jail. Remembering her decision to get more involved with the issues in her community, Lankford struck up a conversation with her unexpected visitors.

‘They wanted to know if I was working in the jail,” she said. ‘I let them take me to the streets, and I ended up spending three and a half years photographing and interviewing homeless people.’

And quite a three and a half years it was. Lankford hired a guide from amongst the homeless, a man named Jed, who showed her the vastly different character that the well-known street corners can adopt in the small hours of the morning. Her path has led her through streets and shelters, at all hours of the day and night, until reaching a culmination point in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

The article gives a solid synopsis of the events and experiences that have led to the publishing of downTownUSA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless and her subsequent work (available on our main website). Zimmerman also notes one crucial distinction that Lankford’s work lays claim to. When the issue of homelessness comes up, the almost universal response is “shelter.” It seems logical and sensible, but is it really the most effective starting point? Lankford’s time amongst the homeless indicates otherwise:

During the time she spent putting the book [downtTown USA] together, a huge percentage of the people Lankford interviewed repeatedly entered and exited jail, yet many could not be convinced to enter shelter. That fascinated Lankford, and was a major source of her desire to continue conducting interviews and complete her book.

‘That’s really where my interest lies,’ she said. ‘We need to tap into all types of homeless individuals. How do we do that? There’s a lot more to it than just providing a shelter.’

Please take a look at the article. Not only will it give you more insight into the work of our esteemed photographer, but it will also introduce a wonderful website into the bargain.

Source: “Humane Exposures: Susan Madden Lankford Adjusts the Focus on Homelessness,” Poverty Insights, 09/02/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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