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The stark reality of seeing the homeless on the street can be dispiriting, causing us to look away. But we know they are there, living a life of hardship many of us can’t imagine.
Unfurling our blinders is photographer Julie Rosen, whose work is in a new exhibit “In Plain Sight: Portraits of The Unseen” at Arc Stages’ Radius Gallery in Pleasantville, which opens later this week.
Rosen’s discerning and sensitive eye brings us face to face with those struggling to survive without permanent shelter. Some look directly at us, others are defiant, some smile. Here we are allowed to openly look, feel compassion and wonder about each person’s story. How did they get here?
The range of expressions are vast, from the tough look of a homeless man in Venice Beach, Calif., to the alert gaze of an older woman wrapped in a blanket on a New York City street, a solid fixture against the blur of traffic. Rosen said her work is intended to spark conversations and compassion for humanity while wondering about their life’s journey.
“Each photograph brings out different emotions from anger to a sense of dignity,” she said. “They don’t see themselves as homeless but as survivors.”
Rosen, a Scarsdale resident, began photographing people living on the streets in 1997 in Venice Beach. The first image elicited what she called a tangle of emotions ranging from amazement to guilt.
“Since taking that first picture, photographing these integral parts of the landscape has grown into a passion,” Rosen said.
Since then, she has sought out those living on the streets in New York City or hidden spots in cities as far away as Vietnam and Cambodia, among many other places. In each location, Rosen patiently observed the routines and habits of the homeless over a period of time. Along with her extended zoom lens, to avoid being intrusive, and her iPhone, Rosen carried bags of sandwiches and much-needed clothing.
A black and white photograph of a man with a mohawk was one person Rosen approached with some sandwiches.
“He looked angry and lost but I said hello, sat down and offered him a sandwich. When I took his picture, he didn’t look away.”
Throughout her vigilant observations Rosen gained a deep understanding and recognized the inner strength of her subjects.
“People living in these dire circumstances really have a sense of dignity and they are surviving,” she said.
A woman sleeping on a wide church doorstep in New York City is cradled in a pile of blankets for a bed and surrounded by all her belongings.
“It’s as if she created her own sanctuary and is peacefully sleeping in a world that’s not at peace,” Rosen noted.
That sense of pride and identity can be seen in the tired man on a food line brandishing shiny turquoise rings, the toothless man singing on the street holding a fake microphone to his lips and the middle-aged woman holding a baby doll, rocking back and forth. While the images leave us feeling raw and uncomfortable, they don’t dispel our fascination that feeds a new and different understanding of survival.
Of the 30 photographs, each one instills the fact that these faces belong to the most vulnerable people forced to live in shelters or on the streets mainly because of the high cost of living, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Last month, HUD reported that there were 653,104 homeless people in America, a number that had spiked by more than 12 percent during 2023. It was the sharpest increase and largest unhoused population since the federal government began tracking those numbers in 2007.
The opening reception for “In Plain Sight: Portraits of The Unseen” is this Friday, Jan. 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Arc Stages gallery, and runs through May. Prices for Rosen’s prints range from $175 to $225. Arc Stages is waiving its 15 percent commission fee and Rosen is donating 50 percent of sales to the Greyston Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Yonkers providing transitional employment programs and workforce education.
Arc Stages’ Radius Gallery is located at 147 Wheeler Ave. in Pleasantville. For more information, call 914-747-6206 or visit www.arcstages.org.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/