In January 2018 the weather was as cold as I’ve ever experienced in Sarasota, Florida. A couple of months prior I had begun photographing the homeless community in Sarasota at foodshare events organized by local activists such as Food Not Bombs. My goal at the time was undefined. I had been struck by the gentleness and humility most of most of the individuals I’d met in the streets and the community was suffering that winter. One woman had frozen to death on the streets over New Years, and I was awestruck by the depth of the loss experienced by her peers. I felt the need to document and capture the depth of the emotion I saw, to find a way to use my lens to humanize these souls, to reinforce the fact that these were people of intrinsic value, worthy of compassion, understanding and help. To that end, I developed some shooting protocols that I felt gave the images a unique impact and resonance and create what I termed an ‘encounter experience’ for a viewer.
I never used a long lens and rarely shot from more than a few feet away from my subjects. I never shot down, always at eye level even if it meant getting down on my belly. I engaged with those I photographed, but kept my energy in check. I didn’t want to see my energy reflected back at me in the images, I wanted authenticity. I strove to capture the essence of each subject as it was presented to me unfiltered and unaffected. As I began getting to know individuals, and photographing them on multiple occasions, they became more comfortable with me and I began to see and capture different aspects of their personalities.
The images I created became known as the Streets of Paradise Project. That January I created a website and began posting online. At the same time, one of the activist volunteers I had approached to help me, Greg Cruz, began to expand his outreach efforts under the Streets of Paradise banner. An organization grew organically from the synthesis of the photography and the grassroots-level outreach. I dropped the word ‘Project’ from the name and a non-profit called Streets of Paradise was formed.
Over the next months the website went viral. The reach was global, literally worldwide. The back-end analytics showed engagement from every continent on earth, and on the ground back home, the outreach effort was growing exponentially. As a direct result of the media attention the photography had garnered, we were approached by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the lead agency combating homelessness in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and asked if we would be able to fill need that existed in the homeless crisis response system. In partnership with them, our efforts to feed, clothe and provide basic necessities of life at the street level expanded to include providing furnishings and basic household essentials to those being rehomed by local social service agencies. As the volunteer base expanded and the organization secured warehouse space to stockpile donated items for the rehoming effort it became clear that Streets of Paradise had evolved and transcended the parameters of the original mandate. The homeless outreach had become the core mission, eclipsing the arts and awareness side that I was focused on. As proud as I was of the organization I had founded, I recognized that it was time to move on. In May 2019 I resigned to continue the work as the ‘Homelessness in Focus’ project.
My current goal is to expand the geographic footprint of the work. I recently spent time with the homeless community on the beaches of Key West, and I’m in the midst of a planning a trip to the Arizona-Mexico border to document the migrant community. I had been hoping to build on a body of work I had begun last year in Old Havana, Cuba, but the unfortunately Trump administration pulled the plug on the travel program while I was at sea. I hope to find a way to continue that project.
I would be honored if you take some time to look through the images showcased on this site. Thank you for reading.