My brother Daren spent most of his adult life homeless and I spent most of my childhood wishing I could do something about it. Nearly 50,000 people sleep on the streets of this city every night. We see them each day in our peripheral vision – hunkered down at the local bus stop, resting on the stoop next to our favorite coffee shop, or temporarily occupying a transitional space under a rare awning. And while we know these people are there and that they have needs and dreams just like the rest of us, we walk past them, averting our eyes. We have no vision of how to contain the problem so we look away. This collective complicity turns our homeless into urban ghosts. We all know their images and they rightfully haunt us. In 2015, the city of Los Angeles declared a state of emergency on homelessness, casting light on our growing epidemic unrivaled anywhere else in the country. HOME(less), a collaboration with my partner Susan Nwankpa at Colorblock, brings these ubiquitous scenes of homelessness back into plain sight.
Susan and I shot the photographs for HOME(less) over a single weekend in January. The vast majority of the images were taken on Wilshire Blvd, the main artery connecting the east and west sides of the city. We photographed in an impersonal way, making each shot less of an invasive portrait and more of a contextual commentary. Even so, what was intended as an impersonal survey quickly became deeply personal. The transitory nature of each person's day to day story revealed a life ever on the move, shuffled and dispersed from one temporary point to the next. A walk down the same few blocks in the morning would reveal a completely new line-up of people just a few hours later. The objective overviews also quickly exposed deeply personal details that easily get glossed over with a cursory glance. This dual gaze led us to track certain shopping carts, colorful blankets, a 2016 puppy calendar, and other possessions that provided fragmented clues of character and background. Informed by the given context, we then set out to house these people and their belongings in our imagination.
We drew from a number of architectural typologies ranging from A-frames to Mid-century Modernist Case Study Houses, organic earth homes to thatch roof bungalows. We brought people to the lakes, mountains, and even a French topiary garden. The power of environment shapes how others see us, but more importantly how we see ourselves. We are not our environment, and yet, we also are. Rather than adopting one set stylistic approach for all, each person required – and deserved – their own unique solution. Combining serendipity with the power of optimistic suggestion, these imaginal structures and vignettes are left in a raw state, highlighting the challenges and opportunities inherent in designing for this underrepresented and increasingly growing faction of our local population. The homeless are always thinking about architecture. It's time we started thinking about them.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Daren Borges (1972-2014).
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