Just Like Us

I created a digital photography program for women who are formerly homeless and living in shelters in Brooklyn and Rochester, NY. Through this Puffin Foundation grant, Just Like Us (2016), I acquired sufficient equipment to facilitate this program in my classes and workshops.

In 2012, through research on women’s oppression, I discovered that homelessness among mentally ill New Yorkers became a fact of life in the 1980s. One organization, CAMBA, began providing therapeutic and structured facilities for homeless women with mental illness in Brooklyn in 1996. I wanted to contribute something positive to these women’s lives. I began to volunteer and teach art and photography in the regularly scheduled recreation workshops offered in the CAMBA shelters for seven years.

My students learned how to better cope with their disabilities and struggles through digital photography and bookmaking skills learned in my workshops. A more positive outlook at the end of each class was apparent as the participants proudly shared their work. The creativity and focusing skills to take photographs and make art not only improved the congeniality of the women, but also assisted them therapeutically. I observed these improvements in a Bushwick shelter class where the students walked around their neighborhood and created visual diaries of their experiences and artworks. In a 2018 residency in Rochester NY, I ran a month of workshops for a similar population, the women enthusiastically created visual journals comprised of their photo-art works and photographs.

Through my volunteer work in these shelters, I recognized the strength and resilience these women offer to themselves and to me. This spurred the development of a photography project where I portray these women with dignity and respect in life-size. Although we might look at them as not like us, or we might not even notice them on the street, they have the same dreams and aspirations as everyone.