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Portrait Exhibition Gives Voice to 'Voiceless' Bowery Mission Members

By Allegra Hobbs | December 8, 2016 4:35pm
 Participants in the project created self portraits conveying empowerment.
Participants in the project created self portraits conveying empowerment.
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Courtesy of the International Center of Photography

LOWER EAST SIDE — Intimate portraits and still-life photographs from recipients of the Bowery Mission's housing and recovery services are now on display at the neighboring International Center for Photography museum.

More than a dozen individuals either living at one of the mission's shelters or receiving food, clothing or emergency housing from the organization took part in the collaboration with ICP, producing still-life photographs representing hope and self-portraits conveying empowerment that are being shown in a free exhibition at the Bowery museum through Sunday, Dec. 11.

Through the project, which launched on Dec. 6, community members who had previously not had an outlet for self-expression were empowered in their newfound artistic platform, said a Bowery Mission representative. 

"It was incredible to see how men and women who are in many ways voiceless, in many ways invisible, and in many ways without access to resources like photography classes, just how empowered they were through these images and their ability to take the images, choose which images were displayed or not displayed, to describe the images in the way they chose...That in and of itself was incredibly empowering and provided a voice and made them visible," said James Winans, chief development officer at the mission.

Of the 17 participants in the project, some were women from the mission's year-long residential program in the Upper East Side and Harlem, which gives shelter and counseling to women exiting situations of crisis such as homelessness, addiction, and abuse, explained Winans.

Other participants had received services from the organization's Bowery location, such as meals, emergency overnight shelter, medical services or clothing.

The artists worked with ICP studio members to produce two works for the exhibition. In the first, they photographed objects that represented hope for them, while in the second they played with lighting, expression, and gesture to convey empowerment in a series of self-portraits.

The artists also created written works to accompany the photos.

Admission for the photo exhibition is free of charge.

The exhibition is just the beginning of ICP's community involvement, said Winans. ICP is currently offering one-time free admission to those who participate in a shoe drive at Feit, a neighboring shoe store on Prince Street at the corner of the Bowery — participants can drop off unwanted shoes at Feit to benefit the Bowery Mission and receive their tickets.

For more information on ICP's collaboration with the Bowery Mission, click here.