"Nowhere to Call Home"
18-year-old Canadian student Leah Denbok publishes photography books to shine a light on homelessness in north america.
Three years ago, I set out on a mission to change the public’s perception of people experiencing homelessness. Through my series of books, “Nowhere to Call Home: Photographs and Stories of the Homeless,” I am trying to humanize this population. I want people to see that, apart from the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves, they are no different than you and I. Volumes one and two in the series are already published and volume three will be released later this year. All royalties are donated to support the Salvation Army, Barrie Bayside Mission Centre.
As you will see, my photographs are very simple — even starkly simple. This is done for a reason. I want nothing to hinder the viewer from looking at the individual in front of them — to gaze into their eyes, to look at their facial expressions, to observe their hand gestures. For all of these things tell a story. They tell a story of pain and anguish, a story of addiction, a story of rejection, a story of disappointment, a story of broken dreams, but often, also, a story of hope and the will to survive. I try to achieve this simplicity by using either a black or white background to eliminate clutter, and by doing my photographs in black and white. Colour can often be a distraction.
Let me now introduce you to some of the wonderful people experiencing homelessness that I have had the privilege of meeting over the past couple of years.
When my dad and I met Pops in the lower east end of Manhattan, he was in poor health. “I’m having trouble breathing,” he told us, “and my legs is swollen up. That means there’s water, because I have heart failure.” Pops had several coughing fits during my photo shoot with him. They were so frequent and violent that there were a few times when I wasn’t sure if we would be able to continue with the shoot. An acquaintance of Pops told us that he often spends the night in the park on a bench. Aggravating the situation is the fact that Pops has no family around. “My family moved out of state,” he said. “But [my ex-wife] doesn’t want me to know. And I think that messes with me … with my head, you know. When you get older you want to integrate with family, you know.”
As my dad and I walked along Yonge St. in Toronto beside the massive Eaton Centre, a disheveled looking man named Donald, wearing dirty, poorly fitting clothes, walked quickly past us. He spoke a lot about such things as working on a ship, Kentucky Fried Chicken and trying to find his parents.
The sun was beginning to set upon another hot August day in New York City, and it would soon be too dark to take photographs. As my dad and I walked past a small park, we saw a little old woman standing hunched over a park bench. She was very meticulously covering the bench with newspapers. Perhaps she was preparing her bed for the night. Janice talked very fast the whole time and looked down while speaking, so we had difficulty understanding her. We did catch, however, that she is aboriginal and had lived in New York City her whole life.
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