Since 2007 I have been working on The Urban Cave, a story about the resilience and humanity of people who live “homeless” on the other side of conventional society. It is about a group of individuals and the spectrum of their lives, rather than their deprivations.
This series of 35mm digital prints comes from time spent on the street following unsheltered men and women who are part of an illusive culture not always considered with sympathy, and yet who accept my company. Homeless men and women continue to cooperate with me out of a desire to tell their story. Sometimes they just tell me to follow them. I wait months for things to occur naturally and for trust to develop so that I can go deeper. I never know what will happen or whom I will find.It is essential to me that I shoot in a way that always communicates respect and preserves the contrast and quality of light and shadow. The images are my response to the beauty of a place, a people, and the dignity, determination, and perseverance of this particular long-term homeless culture.Currently most of the people I follow, have been placed in housing or are on track to receive their own apartments, many through CUCS, Center for Urban Community Services, a non-governmental NGO.
Lisa and her companion Chuck have been living together in the Amtrak tunnel for more than seven years. Of all the men and women I covered, Lisa has been on the street the longest. “After a while when people live like this it gets to be OK. That scares me more than anything. How can living like this ever be OK?” Lisa is adamant she wants out. She does not want to die on the streets.
Country runs the short, dead end street, called “The Batcave.” All hours, day and night, people come and go seeking its shadows. The faces change. Some leave for treatment, jail, family, and now, housing. Others just leave. Many return. According to Snow White, it is a safe place for women seeking refuge. Despite the hardships and the uncertainties of his life, Country stays because of “the beauty of it. I love the street.”
Willy lives in a cardboard box on 34th street just down from Amtrak Railroad’s Penn Station. Willy used to live under Track 13. Evicted from his home on the rails after 9/11, Willy is only comfortable sleeping in a box. The sound of trains passing below penetrates the concrete beneath him.
Fragile and resilient, tragic and beautiful, self-destructive yet surviving, these homeless men and women are just people. Neither more than us, nor less than us they are a part of us. And they are apart from us. Nothing is simple in the shadows of the street.
“Don’t call me homeless” –Country