Project 50: Anatomy of a photo essay

In May 2008, I was given the assignment of illustrating a story on Project 50, a Los Angeles County-run program intended to house 50 of skid row’s most vulnerable homeless.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve worked on a number of in-depth photo essays that focused on people’s experience of being homeless. The first, shot in 1984, featured a family of nine who lived in their car while trying to find housing in San Jose.  Another, shot in 1988, focused on the homeless in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.  In 2000, I worked on a year-long project documenting Los Angeles’ skid row, and two years earlier I completed an 18-month photo essay that looked at the elderly living on the street.

This essay would be different since it would document what it feels like when a chronically homeless person is housed as well as the support they need to make it last. There were so many moving parts to the story that the only way to define a photo essay within it was to find subjects who would be willing to let me into their lives for two years. My entry point was a monthly party celebrating the birthdays of participants hosted by Project 50.  This event gave me the opportunity to meet many of the Project 50 staff members and participants.  Here, I tried to identify which of the participants had compelling stories, and who among them might allow me to document their lives in photographs.

See the video here

Publication Date: 
Los Angeles, CA, USA