“This is an unorthodox request and feel free to say no,” began my creative writing teacher, Laura, in a recent email. She went on to explain that Bridges, a non-profit organization, received a grant to create a photography project on the homeless in Newark. The program gave digital cameras to people experiencing homelessness to express themselves and their world through their art. Would I be interested in interviewing a photographer about his or her experience?
She had me at “unorthodox.” I loved the idea of giving homeless men and women the opportunity to learn skills to develop and project their own voices. For ten weeks, a professional photographer worked with a small group of individuals, training and mentoring them as they documented their lives and their community through photographs.
In an interview with Scottie Howard, I learned what it was like to see the world through his lens, as he captured the beauty, the pain and the spirit of the city and its people. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did.
Scottie Howard, as told to Lisa Tognola
My name’s Howard, but people on the street call me Scottie. I been born and raised in Newark, for 44 years. The day that I started here was the day my life changed because the photography program opened the door for a lot of things.
At first I had the attitude as, I’m not good at taking pictures, I’m not nobody to take pictures, but then I really started seeing what it can do for you and it enlightens you. Every picture that I took, it was a story for me because I didn’t just take pictures to say, that’s a cool picture. I took pictures because that’s what I was feeling.
I didn’t just take picture of trees and parks. I took pictures that meant something. Where you catch a person right there in their element. This man is really sleeping out here. This is really where he’s sleeping every day. You can’t change this picture. Every time that I took a picture it was to inspire people that it can be better. I let them know, I’m just like you. Don’t look at me no different. I was sitting at Penn station on a day like this crying, asking myself, where did it go wrong at? I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from. I didn’t know where I was going to lay my head at the next day. I have nine sisters and five boys but my family’s scattered like roaches.
Everything I learned to do with work and money I did as a hustle. The money was good but I didn’t care about nothing. The four years that I was locked up, that’s what moved me up. I wanted to do something to help myself.
When I first came, my problems I didn’t share with no one. I dealt with my problems by myself. (My photography teacher) he’s a good person, a down to earth brother, and I opened up to him. He let me know if I ever need someone to talk to I could talk to him. The (other photography) students, we laugh. We have fun. We share problems with one another. It showed me that there’s people out there that know what a person is going through. They can see it in your eyes.
That what I did when I looked through the lens of that camera. I seen that a beautiful set of flowers is a smile on a person’s face.
When I came here some lady asked me about a job position. It’s honest. I’ll be able to eat on it. I can’t ask for no more. I have a lot of things I’d like to achieve and one of them is to get my drivers’ license. And I want a family out here. If someone was to ask me what did I get out of this I would say I got understanding. I got a positive look into life.
“We Are Forever: Images Through the Eyes of Homeless Photographers” opened at Gallery Aferro (73 Market Street, Newark) on Thursday, May 26th and runs through June 11. The exhibit is free and open to the public. The photographs featured in the exhibit will be available for sale via Bridges’ website and all proceeds will benefit the photographers.