Revisiting My Homeless Project – “Meet Rodney”

Last month I was contacted by Pbase Magazine about featuring my Homeless Project in their March issue. These images have been published before but this time I decided to re-visit and re-edit the masters which were all shot on Tri-X with a Leica MP and 50 Summicron. As I went through them I remembered how much I enjoyed photographing them and talking with these men and women about their lives, their family, and their urgent situations.

Many of you here may have seen these images before. I have had them at a gallery over at Pbase since 2006 and it has had quite a bit of exposure. Many images have been in newspaper articles, posted at homeless shelters, used for homeless aid web sites, as well as been exhibited here and there. Nothing major but I always enjoy spreading the word about the homeless situation in America not only with the images, but with the personal stories of those I photographed. For those new to the site, I do photograph things other than cats, barns and my son 🙂

These images are not considered “street photography” as everyone here knew they were being photographed. Also, I am not “exploiting” them. Instead of sneaking an image of them as I walked by them I approached them, offered my help, and ended up speaking with them for a while. I learned quite a bit with this project and I do plan to continue it someday soon. These were all shot in Phoenix AZ where there is a huge population of homeless individuals. Here are a just a few of the images that will be in the online magazine due out in March at The magazine will be a 4-5 page spread with the images and the stories of the homeless. I will update here when it is out 🙂 Today I am going to showcase “Rodney”.

Rodney – November 19th 2006. I met Rodney as while walking into a Walgreens drug store. I saw this man limping and his head was bloody with fresh stitches sticking out from his wounds. I asked him if he was OK and he said “Yes” and we started up a conversation. After chatting with him for a minute or two we made our way to an alleyway…his home, where he had a couch that he slept on at night. He started to tell me his life story…

Sitting on the couch, he started to tell me how he just got out of the hospital because someone beat him and stole his belongings. I imagined it must be hell living on the streets. I imagined I was Rodney. My belongings consisting of a blanket, $10, and the clothes on my back. Then someone comes along and beats you bloody just to steal that blanket and $10. Sleeping in alleys and begging for food. Not a situation I would want to be in and it rally made me realize how lucky I am to have what I have. It also made me really sad to see there was a man in front of me spilling his guts to me about his past and present life. He was full of emotion and I felt his pain.

Rodney used to have a job, a family and a house. After losing his job, and then everything else (including losing his wife to cancer) he ended up on the streets. He managed to find his way to an assisted living home where he received a couple hundred dollars a month for necessities from the government. After getting beaten on the streets he no longer remembered where the home was and asked if I could help. Rodney was not drunk, or high. He seemed like a broken man who was sick of life and was teetering on the edge of suicide. He spoke about it and said that he wished the guy who beat him would have finished him off.  I realized that any of us could be like Rodney. One streak of bad luck, or even a tragedy could cause one to spiral downwards pretty fast.

When I left Rodney I told him I would try to find information for him and I did eventually find out where he was staying but my attempts to find him again were unsuccessful. These were shot in 2006 and tonight Rodney may be out there on the streets, cold and hungry. He may have passed on and left this world behind. As I look back at the 7 or 8 images I snapped of him I remembered how much I enjoyed my time with him that day. I helped him out with some food, water, and a little bit of money. When I gave him these things his face lit up and he shook my hand with a smile. He was starving and he devoured the Mcdonalds value meal I handed to him within minutes.

The full article will feature images and stories of four of the individuals I met while working on this project. Look for it in March at I hope to continue this project in 2010 but really would like to continue it with film. When I can score a MP or M7 I will get going once again. Can’t wait.

All images shot with a Leica MP and 50 Summicron at F2.

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  1. As Josh I think of following your idea, but in Germany. We have to open people’s eyes here. To Ronn I just can say that I am a youth politician and that things like this really bother me. But we have to make people aware of the issues around them. And I want to be there for the people. Democracy once was the government of the people, not just the riches and we have to come back to that. Maybe we can all join together in a worldwide project and make an impact? We can at leas try.

  2. Yes a good story to go with some photos.

    In the USA there are more than 43,000,000 considered to be living at or below the poverty line. 70,000,000 without proper health care. Not to mention the rampant crime.

    The real solution is political but, few people can begin to accept that the country is not what it used to be. The rest of the so-called developed world has passed it by. Europe has proper health care and guarantees it for all citizens. Crime is low. The standard of living is high too. So are taxes but, society moves along as a whole for the most part.

    In the USA we have two major political parties making empty promises and basically working for the wealthy once in power. Until Americans wake up and begin either re-structuring the existing parties or creating a social democratic party along the lines of European socialist parties things will never get better.

    In the meantime the most ruthless and hardened people use the propaganda of “freedom means free market” and “anybody can ‘make it'” to justify their own pornographic greed.

    The poor do not need handouts and charity (well they do, but only within the framework of a society gone berserk) what they need is what should already be theirs to begin with. A fair share of the nation’s wealth fairly distributed, health care for all and education for all. The latter is guaranteed but few ever manage to extricate themselves from their social class.

    Again, good photos…

  3. sorry to post it as a comment but Steve : did you get my email ? it’s almost two weeks and I would like this BG

  4. Thanks efix!

    @ Telemach, since these were shot on film all I did was scan them (back in 2006 with a Nikon Coolscan V) and then I opened them up in photoshop, resized them, cleaned up some of the dust and for these particular samples I placed them over a background I had to give them the look they have here. I reduced the opacity of the image to mix it in with the BG, converted the BG to B&W and flattened the image. I can send you the BG I used if you like. Just send me an e-mail and I will reply back with it. Thanks


  5. Dear Steve, this is a very touching story, and it makes me wonder what became of Rodney. Helping one single homeless person by spending a few bucks and a few minutes with them seems so infinitely small considering how many poor people there are in this world, but can mean so much to this one person at this very moment.

  6. Guido, thanks. The imperfections you see in these versions are intentional. I have perfect scans of all of my film images but these were made like this on purpose. Why? Because it adds to the mood. To me, they look better than just the plain scans. Perfection is not always the best route. Thanks for looking.


  7. We all moan about our lot in life at times I’m sure, but all things considered who would want to swap their life with a Rodney or say someone living in the trauma of Haiti right now? Photography can be so much more than a hobby, a living or whatever at times when you come into contact with the lives and daily living circumstances of others as you clearly show by sharing these shots and the background behind them Steve. Real people whose life is just as valid or important as ours no matter how we may view ourselves. Thanks Steve for taking the time to share.

  8. Dramatic history Steve; they are alas numerous in the same situation around the world.
    Thanks for sharing and to make us more conscious.
    Best regards

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