My photographs address issues of race, gender, class and diversity. My primary focus is photographing people. I want my subjects to be seen in a natural relaxed atmosphere. I talk, joke and wait until their true selves emerge through their gestures and expressions before photographing them.
In 2012, I began research on women’s oppression by reading on the subject of women, homelessness and mental illness. I discovered that, “Widespread homelessness among mentally ill New Yorkers became a fact of life in the 1980s due in large part to the combination of a huge loss of low-cost housing through gentrification and the failure of policy makers to create adequate community-based care for mentally ill people released from long-term hospitalizations.”
Homelessness as described above continues today, often reaching crisis levels. As a professional photographer and former public school art teacher, I understood the value of learning these subjects for the women who reside in the Park Slope Women’s Shelter. This shelter is a part of CAMBA, “that operates this, and other, homeless shelters for mentally ill, substance-abusing women at the Park Slope Armory in Brooklyn. The Park Slope Women’s Shelter enables mentally ill and often substance-abusing women to stabilize their condition and move toward permanent and/or supported housing.”
Creativity is an effective way to stimulate the brain and benefit mental health. There is much documentation of how photography and art can help people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words. The instability of shelter living wears on these women’s souls. The outlet of painting, making a collage or learning digital photography, gives them tools that can reduce their anxiety and is a refuge from the intense emotions associated with their mental illness.
Through this work, I’m aware of the qualities these women offer to themselves and to me as we work, side by side, in the art studio. Through our discussions during class, I learn how they cope with their disabilities and struggle to recreate their lives. Moving into an apartment is paramount. Shelter, as with anyone, is their first step for getting back on track. Rapid re-entry into the community minimizes the impact of their homelessness.
In my photographs, these women are subjects calling on us—the observers—to consider our relationship with them and how our actions might play a role in allowing this destruction of the social safety net. What I do is portray women, who we might look at as not like us, who we might not even notice, as having the same dreams and aspirations as everyone, even though they live in a shelter and have been deemed mentally ill.
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