The concept of homelessness is a pervasive, fluidly opinionated topic that has been debated since the existence of economic division. Quite often, it is referred to as a 'problem', to be dealt with so surrounding viewers are not interrelated with. Dehumanization is a habit built by those who live in large cities and isolated urban communities for the sake of containing guilt, and laying blame upon a stranger whose narrative has been blindly assumed. What would happen if we did not make an assumption about these strangers' characters and instead, opened our ears and hearts to each individual story of what it is like to be who they are? This is what the creators of the Through Our Eyes Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina, endeavoured to do.
The city of Spartanburg felt the presence of many people who were experiencing homelessness. Leaders of the community were then driven to find a way to focus on not riding the city of the issue, but formulating a creative method that was capable of lifting the people's outlooks. This was done by handing out 100 disposable Fujifilm cameras to 100 homeless people in the city. Through this act, the photographers were abruptly handed an autonomy that may have felt lost to many of them. Through these actions they could expose the issue directly, from a personal point of view rather than an abstract, vague societal conjecture.
The aim of the organizers falls within three categories of motivation: the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. The spiritual motivation works to provide unconditional positive regard for those experiencing homelessness. Volunteers and organizers act in accordance to the compassion they or a close family member would desire to receive during the most trying of times of their lives. A craving to be understood is a shared trait between all humans. The emotional motivation offers the pure joy that occurs when partaking in a creative act. Opening up the avenue of photography, a hobby and activity multitudes of people around the world enjoy, to the homeless in Spartanburg communicates to them what they see, do, eat, feel, matters equally to those who are not homeless. This, once again, gives them a sense of capacity and respect they may not have felt in years. The final physical motivation is the idea that ultimate change. The photographers have become an integral part of raising awareness about the varying issues they face on a day to day basis. It is because of their willingness to partake in the project that those in their city, community and around the world through social media will be able to grow in understanding, rather than judgment of their situations.
These photos are an opportunity to have the voice of the homeless heard, and thus lead to change in available shelter, addiction and health programs.
Darnell Hawkins, a participant in the project, comments on a photo she took of a friend of hers. “I took this photo because I thought she was a nice young lady. I think it’s very cool. I want other people to know that they can take the same pictures, do something interesting.”