Photojournalist, muralist and filmmaker Akintola Hanif, founder and editor-in-chief of Hycide magazine, worked for ten weeks with homeless men and women in Newark to train and mentor them as they documented their lives and surroundings in photographs.
Tonight, a selection of those photographs will go on exhibit with the opening of “We Are Forever: Images Through the Eyes of Homeless Photographers” at Gallery Aferro (73 Market Street). The exhibit will run through June 11.
The project began with Bridges, an organization that operates in Newark, Irvington, Summit, and New York City and has provided services to homeless men and women for nearly thirty years. In June of 2015, Bridges won the Newark Arts Council’s ArtStart award. Bridges used the grant to fund digital cameras, and worked with Hanif, who has for years forged relationships with and documented the lives of homeless men and women in his own work, to teach them photography and photojournalism skills.
This model has been tried in other cities, often with stunning results. Homeless photographers in New York have had their work displayed at the city’s Department of Homeless Services, and a group of homeless and former homeless men and women staff a magazine in Oklahoma City. Projects in Washington, D.C. and Nashville put cameras and composition skills in the hands of homeless children.
Read about any of these projects, and it’s clear that photography instruction is important but secondary. The primary mission is to help give homeless men, women and children the skills to develop and project their own voices and visions, and to build empathy born of respect for homeless people’s agency among the broader community.
For Hanif, relationships were at the core of the “We Are Forever” project as well. “[The] Hycide Bridges photography program has been my most humbling and fulfilling experience in my entire career as a photographer,” said Hanif, according to a statement from the Newark Arts Council about the exhibit. “I don’t see my students as homeless people. I see them for their hearts and intentions and that is the place we connected from.”
The photographs featured in the exhibit will also be available for sale via Bridges’ website, and all proceeds will benefit the photographers.
“We Are Forever: Images Through the Eyes of Homeless Photographers” opens at Gallery Aferro (73 Market Street, Newark) on Thursday, March 26th from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and runs through June 11. The exhibit and opening are free and open to the public.
Image source: Bridges homepage