Photography 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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