In 2006, while studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I had a photography assignment that unexpectedly has worked as a catalyst for a much bigger project. The assignment was to visit and photograph the same location for an entire week. For me, the train station by my apartment, swarmed with commuters and buskers, seemed to be the logical choice; although however logical the choice may have been, my professor informed me that it was also a dangerous one.
She was right. You see…some strangers frown upon their photo being taken.
In fact, just five minutes into the assignment a puppeteer verbally accosted me (Ha! I can’t say I ever imagined writing that sentence). A little shaken up, I took a seat on the floor, silently pep talking myself. I wasn’t going to give up just yet; I knew there were too many interesting stories to be told through my photographs. And with that thought, between the shuffles of commuters, I made eye contact with the man who inspired me to begin Project Humanize.
“ T ” – as I would refer to him in my journal after our meeting, for no other reason than I am incapable of remembering names (admit our flaws, right?) – had hair that would make members of even the greatest 80’s hair band jealous. His clothes, while remotely clean, clearly showed signs of wear and tear, as did the guitar he played in his lap. However, albeit T’s worn guise, his face and demeanor were kind. I suppose that’s why, when he called me over, I went and sat by him with no hesitation.
After introductions and me (probably) stuttering through a brief synopsis of the assignment, T gave me permission to photograph him. In between shutter clicks and guitar strums he and I exchanged our personal elevator pitches. I was a student from America who had always dreamed of visiting Australia and missed her mom. T was a busker who legally performed in the subway stations as a means for income.
During the hour or so that I spent in the station that day, T introduced me to all of the other vagabond performers that lined the station walls. With each story that was shared, two things became clear to me: 1) these individuals weren’t all that different than me, or the commuters that surrounded us. They were struggling and were just trying to do the best with what they had and 2.) 90% of those said commuters ignored T and his comrades, oblivious to the fact that each of us are one stroke of bad luck or one wrong decision to sharing a performance space with them.
And it was in that moment that this project was born. It was in that moment that I realized I wanted to find a creative way of educating people on the less fortunate and/or homeless. I wanted to find a way to tell their stories and silence the stereotypes that cloud the world’s empathy. In short, I wanted to humanize the individuals that the majority of persons walk by each day without a second look, as if they were a static piece of the cityscape. T had shown me nothing but kindness, and I desperately wished the world would do the same for him and all others in similar situations.
So here I am. 11 years later. Attempting – through art – to honor T and the countless of other homeless individuals who have told/will tell me their stories.
This is Project Humanize. Let’s get started, shall we?