Tiny Town, USA – Amelia Burns is going on a long strange and promising, trip. She plans to criss-cross American taking pictures of homeless people in all their varied circumstances – in a mobile photo booth.
"At first I wanted to be a Winnebago," she says. "I dunno why – it's a name people recognize and associate with mobile homes. But it could be camper or a conversion van."
Or that Toyota Runrader (shown right) – a sweet fixer upper she's standing beside.
As with any expedition this journey requires planning and backers. So we're here to help Amelia, an extraordinary photographer, explain why she needs 1) A mobile camper 2) Everything from photo cards to backdrops and light stands ... and, oh yeh 3) Gas money.
She calls her effort The Homeless Photo Booth Project and it is her intention to fire up some "Hope, Growth, Recovery, Recognition and ... CHEER!"
Her upbeat and lowdown sales pitch can be seen on Youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwRiAFJb5F4, authored in a very hip way you won't get the groove of here in this old school format.
First things first: Amelia wants to document the homeless in America. Not as part of some "homeless chic" trend that has infiltrated the arts But more as an action that embraces America's homeless culture in its entirety. To show them as they are: People. People who have chosen to be homeless, people who work and cannot afford dwellings and are homeless, people who by reason of illness are too unstable to hold onto a location ... People just trying to get by.
People who did tours in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and came back more than a little changed. People who grew up believing there was an American dream and found it to be just that: A dream and a dream they did not fit in or necessarily believe in.
People who, in many parts of the country have formed an identity and an affinity with one another so that they co-exist as a subculture with its own mores and codes of conduct. Yet they often have no identification, little to no money and certainly, no address. If they do have an address, it is temporary. They are indigent. Drifters. Beggars and bums. Some are hard-working, thrifty and yet can't work hard enough to get out of the grinding poverty trap.
Some are noble and true. Others are beggars and thieves. Some are religious and others freethinkers. Some are parents; some are maimed. The more you look at the cross section of this population, the more they resemble the nation itself.
Driving Amelia's entrepreneurial spirit is her commitment to honor her father's dying request (He died on Oct 16, 2011): That she do a photo project based on the principles mentioned above: Hope, Recovery, Recognition and Cheer. Her dad, Robert J. De Luca, was a social worker who invested his life in helping others, most of them homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted and disenfranchised.
Her plan entails raising $25,000 for a mobile home, food, gas, computer expenses, studio lights, camera expenses, and of course, she says, in her charming ad "my Winnebago."
Well, it doesn't have to be a Winnebago.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 643,067 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide as of January 2009. Additionally, about 1.56 million people used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program during the 12-month period between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. This number suggests that roughly 1 in every 200 persons in the US used the shelter system at some point in that period.
According to the United States Conference of Mayors, in 2008 the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness for persons in families were lack of affordable housing, cited by 72 percent of cities, poverty (52 percent), and unemployment (44 percent), and top ideas to stop homelessness were more housing for persons with disabilities (72 percent), more or better paying employment opportunities (68 percent), and more mainstream assisted housing (64 percent).
According to a Wiki entry, "Many advocates for the homeless contend that a key difficulty is the social stigma surrounding homelessness. There is anecdotal evidence that many Americans complain about the presence of homeless people, blame them for their situation, and feel that their requests for money or support (usually via begging) are unjustified. In the 1990s, particularly, many observers and media articles spoke of "compassion fatigue" a belief that the public had grown weary of this seemingly intractable problem.
Public opinion surveys show relatively little support for this view, however. "
A 1995 paper in the American Journal of Community Psychology concluded that "although the homeless are clearly stigmatized, there is little evidence to suggest that the public has lost compassion and is unwilling to support policies to help homeless people." A Penn State study in 2004 concluded that "familiarity breeds sympathy" and greater support for addressing the problem.
A 2007 survey of New Yorkers found 67 percent said most homeless people were without shelter because of "circumstances beyond their control." More than one-third (36 percent) said they worried about becoming homeless themselves, with 15 percent saying they were "very worried." The survey by the nonpartisan group Public Agenda found support for investments in prevention, rental assistance and permanent housing.
Public Agenda has also concluded, however, that the public's sympathy has limits. Maybe this nameless, faceless public has lost patience for the nameless, faceless homeless. But Amelia Burns has not lost patience.
"These people are seen but also remain un-seen – I want to show them as who they are – to acknowledge their existence," Burns said. "People are really afraid of the homeless and pretend they are not there; I'd like to help turn that around, to show, with respect and dignity, the spirit these people have, the spirit that we all share."
Burns has a fine arts degree in photography from Pratt and specializes in intimate street photographs. As the two images we chose for this piece attest, she knows how to take one helluva portrait.
But why the camper?
"Because I would like to transform it into a traveling photo booth," she says. "People love photo booths. And it offers privacy and a sense of a home that also, is not a home."
Amelia's project is presented on a fundraising site called Indiegogo, "an industry-leading platform to raise money for all types of campaigns." A percentage of the total raised goes back to Indiegogo.com and Amelia has a page that explains her campaign in detail. And if you have any questions as to the quality of her work or her commitment to the cause visit, www.ameliaburns.com, or check out facebook.com/ameliaburnsphotography ...
As of this report she has raised a modest $523.00 toward her goal with 64 days left to go. She has not explored the possibility of sponsorship from the photography or auto industry as yet, saying she wants to keep this as grassroots as possible. With the economy the way it is, that is not the most fertile ground for harvesting seed monies. But after you've see her work, studied her plans, gotten a feel for the authentic spirit or her enterprise, you might find yourself won-over by Amelia's echt-American appeal.
There are perks for contributing: Five bucks gets you a postcard from the road; with $15, a "Spread the Cheer" Koosie; $25 – "Spread the Cheer" bumper sticker; $50, a "Spread the Cheer" mug (So you can drink your coffee with joy!); at the $100 level you'll receive an 8 x 10 print of a portrait from the project.
Then we jump to the big time: $500: A one-of-a-kind "L.A. LOOKS" 24 x 35 canvas (only five of these available, folks, at www.ameliaburns.com/portfolio/la-looks/); pitch-in $800 and get a signed copy of the Homeless Photo Booth Project Book when published; and, TA-DA! $1000: A photo booth event just for you, the big donor: Amelia will come to your place, where ever that may be, and set up the booth for portraits of the donor and friends.
So, hey buddy, can you spare a lotta dimes?
– Franklin Crawford, a writer who believes in Amelia's quest