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Rare Street Scenes Captured in Photo Exhibit Shot by City's Homeless

By Noah Hurowitz | November 16, 2015 5:48pm
 "Through the Eyes of the Homeless" will show in the Department of Homeless Services lobby until Nov. 23.
Through the Eyes of the Homeless
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FLATIRON — They shot what they know best: the streets.

A group of homeless photographers will celebrate the opening of “Through the Eyes of the Homeless," an exhibit opening on Monday night and showcasing the works of 14 amateur shutterbugs who spent the spring and summer learning about photography and shooting their surroundings.

After an opening Monday at the Prince George Ballroom, the photographs will hang in the lobby of the Department of Homeless Services through Nov. 23.

With the help of professional photographers as mentors, the shooters documented their world from their own vantage points, showing a side of the city many people rarely see, even if it’s right in front of their eyes, said one organizer of the show.

“If you live in a home you tend to know everything in the house, and these are places they actually sleep so they look at them in different way than other people do,” said Laurie Sherman-Graff, director of Heart Gallery NYC. “We didn't tell them what to shoot, so they generally got images of places that meant something to them in one way or another.”

The project is a collaboration between the Department of Homeless Services and Heart Gallery NYC, a photography group that raises awareness about children in the foster care system and works to connect kids with families for adoption.

Heart Gallery teamed up with the city after an official at DHS heard about a similar initiative with homeless people in Paris, and thought it be a good way of capturing the moving art of New York streets while empowering the people who know those streets best.

The participants, chosen from a pool of 42 who expressed interest, worked with five professional mentors, who armed them with point-and-shoot cameras and some basic photography skills. The photographers spent a week over the summer shooting their haunts, the places they sleep, and other street-level scenes of the city. Each of them brought their camera back a week later, Sherman-Graff said.

“So many people said ‘you’re not going to see them again,' but our participants proved them wrong,” she said. 

To prepare for opening night, Heart Gallery worked with Century 21 department stores and volunteer stylists to help dress the homeless photographers — not because the photographers need makeovers but as a way of helping them, at their request, feel on par with attendees at the opening, Sherman-Graff said.

“Most of these people are already on the road to recovery, so we’re not really transforming them, just making it extra special for them,” she said. “We can’t solve homelessness but we can help them empower themselves.”

The photographers and their mentors will show their work from 6-8 p.m. tonight, Nov. 16, at the Prince George Ballroom located at 15 W. 27th St. Their work will hang from Nov. 17-Nov. 23 in the lobby of the Department of Homeless Services at 33 Beaver St.