23 March, 2009

As part of a project, we made a stop at "tent city" in Sacramento. This homeless encampment on the banks of the American River has been in the media spotlight recently ....even making it to Oprah for a story about how the economy has been creating a new homeless population.

When I first arrived (and almost got arrested by the park police, and the railroad police, for driving my car onto private property) I found that my initial skepticism turned out to be basically valid. This was not a new "tent city". Many of these folks had been there for months or years. This is their home. Most have drug or alcohol addictions or are criminals and cannot hold a job or housing. These are not Joe and Mary homeowner...now in foreclosed upon and out in a tent. I felt that many, especially the national media, had really mis-represented this story.

I did not have much time to spend as we were on the road and my 6 -year- old was happily locked in the car watching a movie. But I did meet some passionate and charming people out there. Most were sick of the media, one told me to come back after his channel 10 and channel 5 interviews this afternoon. I heard the story of the CNN cameraman who got punched because he lacked common decency and respect of privacy. Did I do any better? I know I did not shoot alot of images but spent most of my time listening to stories and hoping I was not lumped in with some of the other media who the residents felt intrusive.

I hope that my images will help. A few folks said that, even tho the story was mis-represented, they hoped it would help make some positive changes. I hope so too. And I hope it does not get more crowded out there.


  1. Jan,
    Your images are strong and beautiful, they convey the depth of the situation. The style adds to an unease you feel from the location and the subjects.

    As for the other issues there seems to be a common thread in these types of encampments. I shot Reagonville in Houston in the early 80's and the same issues existed there. Most of the people had been living in tent cities before the area became known and many were hostile toward almost anyone just not myself and the other journalists. Only a few were families who had hit a run of bad luck.


  2. Hi, Jan --
    They're terrific. I love the color saturation. Normally, you see this kind of subject in black and white but your shots have this other-worldly quality to them, conveying, to me, just how surreal this whole situation is. Nice work.

  3. The color play and burned edges plays to the subject. There is a stark reality going on that many aren't willing to see and you pictures capture a view that is both uncomfortable and respectful.

    Have fun and say hi to Eli.

  4. I love the effect on the corners of these photos. It's almost as if you're looking through a pinhole to another world. I think the exposure you chose conveys the stark contrast between the lives of those people and the rest of the world outside of that camp. My favorite photo is the woman with the cat. She has a story to tell and her face says a lot of it.

    I've got another project you might be interested in! How about midwives in backwoods Tennesse doing natural child births at an old hippie commune?

  5. Very sensitively done Jan. There is both a great deal of humanity in the people images and also I think you've managed to capture the emotional content quite accurately. Feels very raw, and stripped bare. Like the energy has left this place only the people are still there. Modern day Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans is what comes to mind.