Monday, November 30, 2009

Donations Sparse

In these tough times people are donating less to organizations because they have less money in their own pockets.  When in actuality, now is when charities are in need the most.

While I am doing this project, a million ideas pop in my head everyday.  Different routes, different ways I can take this project visually.

Every night I think about ways in which I could use art to tell a story and raise money for the homeless.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quick Check In

I'm going to post a quick update on what I have been doing this weekend.  I will follow up with more of my work later this week.

What I did:

Had a meeting with one of the photography professors, Ed West.  He provided very helpful feedback on my photos and I am excited to shoot more photos in the tent community when I return from break.

Had another interview with Jay last night.  I felt this interview was even better because I was more comfortable and willing to ask deeper questions.  I will post some of the audio later this week!

I made a list of possible ways I can visualize Jay's story to the audience (ex: photography, graphic design, typography, etc.)

What I learned:

To be patient and not get ahead of myself in thinking how I am going to visualize the final presentation of my project in April.

What I am going to do next:

I look forward to writing about my experience during the second interview with Jay.  I feel the second interview was richer and straight to the point.  I am going to take this time to sit down and make a time sheet for the second interview and mark off important parts.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Hannah sent me a link to an interesting new photo essay entitled "Home" which focuses on the subject of the housing crisis in Michigan.  The photographer, Austin R. Hermann, takes black & white photos of various families in Michigan standing in front of their house.  The artist asks the participants two questions each:  (1) What do you think is broken in the current economic/housing system?  and (2) Are you moving?

The series is cohesive because of the layout and structure of the series.  I like how the artist chose to ask participants the same two questions, however I am not sure if I like the questions he chose to ask.  I like seeing work like this because it echoes the problem we face in the US.  This is very helpful because it provides me another way of looking at how to present my work.  I just listened to a 3-minute NPR piece on this artist.  He felt he took better photographs and got better interviews when he spent a longer time with the individual.  He also said people were very willing to participate in the project.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Writing Reflection on Interview 1

Hannah suggested I create a concise writing piece, to guide the typical viewer into my project.  This enabled me to think hard about the first interview with Jay in great detail.  Although I have the entire interview on tape, it is important to talk about my personal experience when interacting with a homeless individual.  Here is my first writing piece from my first interview:

Interview 1

I walk with slight apprehension into the Ann Arbor District Library, with my bag in one hand and sound equipment in the other.  This Thursday afternoon I’m not scoping out the latest design magazines or plopping down my books and claiming a spot to study for the night.  Today I am interviewing an individual who knows first-hand about an important subject matter that needs to be brought to life.

I have met him several times before.  He wears conservative clothing, owns a one-of-a-kind guitar, and doesn't step out in public until his hair is gelled to perfection. He spent the majority of his life running a successful advertising and marketing business with his father.  An easy-going, likeable guy, he now works at the local bar in town.  His name is Jay, and what may not be so apparent, is the fact that he is "homeless” and has been living in a tent community in Ann Arbor for twelve weeks. 

I arrive to the surprisingly large library early in order to check out a quiet spot to record our interview.  I walk through the busy first floor, passed fifteen or so people each on desktop computers, and notice a small, empty study room.  This room could work.  Yes, this is where the interview will take place. 

He mentioned he might be late because of a doctor’s appointment, which is perfect.  I can test out the sound quality in the room and finish my coffee so I am caffeinated enough to summon the courage to ask him why he has failed financially in his life.  I get a text “Running late, be there in fifteen -Jay.”  I stare at the screen for a few seconds and ponder at the fact that I just received a text from a homeless person.  Didn’t think that would ever happen.  Then I snap out of it.  I realize I still partake in the stereotypical view of homelessness.   But, it is only natural.  I need to break the label, and teach others to break the stereotype as well.

Through the study room’s glass door, I see Jay in a backwards hat and winter coat.  His face is tomato-red and eyes watery from walking in the cold.  He waves, opens the door, and in between sniffles he says, “Sorry I’m late, doctor had me waiting.” 

“Not a problem, thanks for coming,” I reply.  He begins talking about the odd hot and cold Michigan weather as I zone out and brainstorm ways I am going to transition this light-hearted conversation into an emotional life reflection. 

In the meantime, while he continues on, I reach for my audio recorder and click “record.”  Green light on, recording begins.  Before I think of a transitional sentence he exclaims “Okay let’s get started. What do you want to ask?”  I looked up, surprised at his eagerness to jump into conversation.  

I asked him to talk about his life, his family, his business, his goals, his stresses, and concerns.  From an outsider perspective it is apparent that his life spiraled downward soon after his father’s passing a few years ago.  He sold the family business and made some bad financial investments.  Unemployed, he moved in to care for his mother, who was court-ordered to be institutionalized. He is struggling finding a job and has exhausted all opportunities.  It is evident that his story represents the 1.5 million who will be homeless this year due to the recession.

The stories he told about his once-successful business and how his siblings have gone separate ways was interesting, but these particular parts of the interview did not stand out.  It was the little moments that got my attention, the parts where he stumbled to find the right word, the parts where he had to close his eyes and really think.

“I really, really, do miss the Red Wings….I read in the paper today that they won 9-1 last night.  I usually never miss a game, but this year…I haven’t seen one.”

“Tate and I were talking about things we miss the other day…..I miss doorknobs.”

“I…I don’t know what to do right now.  I’m at my wits end. My Jeep Cherokee was on its last legs, but I had to sell it to live.” 

“It has taught me…….patience…well, I’m still learning that… humility, taught me the value of a dime….the value of a penny.  It showed me that there are still a lot of good people out there.”

“Society negatively views homelessness….they have conceived views of homeless.  And yea….there are a lot of bad apples out there, just like in any group that presents themselves.  But most of the homeless I have met……..are very nice people…and anyone can end up this way…this is what I live by:  never judge a book by its cover.”

“I try not to look homeless. I really try to keep up appearances.  And even though I don’t look homeless, sometimes when I walk around……on the street…I have kind of like a……a......what’s the word….a complex…that everyone is looking at me…judging me…and I feel like they know I am homeless.” 

I have never been a collector, besides this jacket that I am very attached to…..I have a pair of boots, my mother bought for me…… I wear them every winter.  They are in perfect condition.  Inside and out.  These boots are older than you.”

“Our little tent community…everyone is surprisingly nice and normal.  The group……we all trust each other…..we all rely on each other.  Nobody has everything they need… survive…whether it be toothpaste……everyone shares everything we have, without questions….and no one has stolen anything.  I could leave my tent for 5-6 days and know everything will be there when I get back.”

These little snippets are what truly stood out to me.  His delivery on these lines is really, really strong and I felt they were very powerful during the conversation.  These were the lines I thought about on the walk home from the interview; I left the library feeling like I had just recorded a successful interview, yet I had a pit in my stomach thinking about everything he had just said.  The raw moments of emotional expression were evident.

But one spoken line particularly stood out.  One I kept thinking about over and over again. 

When Jay was talking about how surprisingly nice homeless people are, he mentioned where most homeless spend their day.  They go to the shelters and soup kitchens for food, or when not looking for a job, enjoy the day at the park.  Then he pointed through the study room glass door, to the group of individuals who I had walked past earlier, the ones who were all occupying the computers. 

He pointed to them and said, “Most of the homeless...hang out……in the library.”

Chills ran through my body, as it was just 40 minutes earlier that I had walked past those people and such a thought never even entered my mind, as they blended into the environment at the library.  I thought to myself:  these are the people who are homeless, the ones who blend in our environment during the day, yet have nowhere to sleep when the sun goes down.  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Weekly Post November 20

What I Did:

This week I spent a majority of time, about 4 hours, reviewing and listening to the interview from last week. This also includes writing down a minute-by-minute log so if I want to refer back to a specific point, I know the exact time it occurred. Also spent another half hour learning how to post sound on my blog. Picture I took of Jay in the study room during our interview at the library:

This week, I had great conversations with our IP professors and students. Hannah’s 30 minute meeting was extremely encouraging and when the meeting ended, I was so eager to begin working.

Spent about an hour meeting with Stephanie and other students in our section: Carly, Katie, and Olivia. This meeting was really helpful, as all of our IP projects involve reaching out to others. While making connections can ultimately pay off in the end, it is a risk because we are somewhat reliant on the response and actions of others. During this meeting I presented two separate portions of the interview.

Stephanie gave me great advice about what to look for in the sound piece and why the second piece I played was more powerful to listeners. She gave advice about how to move forward in my second interview.

Hannah suggested I do some writing, so that I reflect back on my interview with Jay and remember exactly what happened while it was fresh in my mind. I spent about two hours writing this reflection on the experience and exactly what was going through my mind. I will post the writing piece in a separate blog post.

I also met with Carly for about an hour on Monday night just to talk about our projects. We have a similar work pattern and are dealing with similar issues in making connections to other people. We agreed to meet every two to three weeks just to catch up and go over where we stand in our projects.

I also talked with Lauren for 20 minutes about how I can improve my night-photography skills. She gave me some tips and let me borrow her book “Night & Low-Light Photography.” Learning how to improve my night photography skills will most definitely come in handy during the Wednesday night camp meetings.

Here is a night picture from the last meeting. When I introduced myself as an Art & Design student, one of the homeless campers named Ted asked what kind of art making I am interested in. Ted loves art and talked about his passion for woodcarving. When I asked if he had any work he could show, he went to his tent and brought out a few beautiful samples of his work. He carves very realistic images on wood:

What I achieved/accomplished/discovered:

After I wrote down the timestamps of our interview, I highlighted the most moving parts of our conversation. After doing this, I saw how all the lines I highlighted were towards the end of the interview, when Jay became more comfortable talking, and I was more at ease with asking personal questions. It was interesting to see this visually:

I was so happy to write a reflection on the interview; I remembered and wrote small details of the experience that I might not have remembered a few weeks from now. I really enjoyed writing the reflection and I look forward to writing more.

I discovered how I really enjoy the medium of sound and how it can be potentially very moving for this project. The parts I found most fascinating were when Jay was struggling to find a word; every time I replay the moments where he pauses when trying to think of a word, I feel like I am in the room with him again. It is very real.

What should I do next?

I need to contact Ed West and get some feedback on photos. I love photography and think I could use it as a piece in this project.

Continue following up with the shelters. I have been in touch with a shelter in NJ that is very willing to work with me in finding families. I am hoping to set something up over Christmas break so that I can interview a family during that time.

After the 30-minute meeting, Hannah encouraged me to come up with 10-12 different ways of telling Jay’s story visually, in addition the sound. Posters? Collages? Book? Website? Photographs? And with the sound portion- should I only use his voice? Should I use my voice in some parts? I am going to take this weekend to really explore different options. This way I will have different ideas to show at December Review.

I am having a second interview with Jay on Monday evening at the library.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I spent some time this weekend listening to the 50 minute audio interview and marking off important parts of our conversation.  I wrote down specific time stamps where memorable lines were delivered.  I am wondering the best way to go about presenting the story to listeners- a 2 to 3 minute multi-media story like I originally thought?  I feel like now that I have this interview, I can even look into other options of presenting his story.  A sound installation?  Multi-media story?  

Here is a one minute clip of Jay talking about how his life spiraled downward financially.  This audio is in raw form; I have not touched/edited this yet because I am waiting to see about purchasing Final Cut Pro. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Update November 13

What I did:

Wow…This week really started out slow and seriously picked up fast.  In the beginning of the week I was really trying to reach out to people and became frustrated when the response was limited.  I felt my project was out of my control.  I really have to understand that my entire project deals with working with other individuals, and while that is a risk, it can also pay off in the end.  I must have patience.   

Spent two hours learning and experimenting with my new Olympus sound recorder.  I love it.  Side note-the recorder's packaging is beautiful, almost reminded me of an iPod package.  The simple and slick black design made me so eager to open the package and begin recording.  Funny how the packaging really has such an impact.

I went to another Tent community meeting on Wednesday night for one hour.  Very interesting meeting and provided great insight.  This is where I first tested out my recorder.

Another two hours was spent at one of the best lectures I have ever attended at the University of Michigan.  Kenneth Cole came to the School of Public Health and talked about his business and how his name brand has provided him the opportunity to fight for various causes.  He talked about how the recession has provided more opportunities for creative individuals to thrive.  Multiple times he stressed that in these hard times, creativity is necessary to prevail.  He also talked about his business and how he started selling his shoes out of a parked trailer on the streets of NYC.  His blog is awesome and I recommend checking it out. (image from website)

Why did I want to attend this lecture?  Well the name "Kenneth Cole" first got my attention, but when I clicked on more information about the talk, the first article that came up on his blog was a sign!  The blog post "Will the Recession Change our view of Homelessness?" discusses the current problem and how the recession might actually shine a light to the issue:

 "Will profiling families like this help the homelessness problem? Will we stop assuming that people live on the street because they are lazy and don't want to work? Can we begin to see them as human beings who caught a bad break or have other issues which require outside help?  If one good thing comes from the current recession and the increase in homelessness, I do hope it is a change in our culture's notion of who is homeless and most importantly, why."

Spent about three hours on my grant proposal this week.  The toughest part of the grant proposal was not even budgeting the materials, or writing the proposal summary.  The most challenging part was deciding the title of my project.  I created a temporary title and realized I need to develop a compelling title in the next few weeks. I honestly think the project title is the most important part of our IP project.  It is the face of our project, the first impression.  In any art piece, it is all about the presentation, and the title serves as the introduction.  I really feel the title is one of the most important and challenging parts of this project.

I also spent time sending out e-mails, following up with SOS and Alpha House.  Both are supposed to get back to me within the next few days.  I am eager to see if any families have agreed to me interviewing them.

This week when I went to the tent meeting, I planned specific times to meet with Jay.  We agreed to meet in the downtown library today.  I arrived early to scout out a good location to record our conversation, and found a study room on the third floor.  I spent about 50 minutes interviewing and recording his story.  And honestly, during our conversation, it really hit me.  This issue is real.  This guy is homeless.  He has a college degree and once ran a successful marketing business.  And now he can’t find a job that will give him enough hours bussing tables.  I left the conversation fulfilled that I got a successful interview, but truly sad about his situation.  I had a pit in my stomach on my walk home but realized this is a story that must get out.  

What I achieved/accomplished/discovered:

This week taught me that these two semesters will be filled with significant ups and downs.  My dad always says to treat the good days just the same as the bad ones.  It is extremely difficult to depend on others when completing the most important year-long project of our college career, but I am really passionate about this and want to continue working.

I also learned the challenge of interviewing.  Jay was an excellent first interview because he speaks well and is very open about his situation.  Because I ultimately want the audio component of my project to be told in first person by the homeless individual, I don’t want my voice to be heard on the tape.  I can’t interrupt his train of thought and I need to be careful in how I phrase my questions.  I can’t ask questions in the form of “Do you like living in Ann Arbor”, because that will elicit a yes or no response.  “Discuss your thoughts on living in this town” is more appropriate. 

What should I do next?

I am going to photograph Jay tomorrow.  He mentioned specifics today about certain objects that he keeps with him to remind him of where he came from. 

I also need to edit down the 50 minutes of the interview.  Trying to think about the best way to go about this.  I will probably break the audio down into important segments and take notes on the most important parts I want to address.

In addition I am going to continue following up with SOS and Alpha House.  Both places are going to let me know this week if I can work with a specific family.  I have also reached out to IRF (homeless shelter in NJ) and they have displayed interest in my project.  I need to aggressively follow up with them as well. I am also going to reach out to Avalon Housing and two other places that provide help for the homeless.  I better make all of the connections possible.  

I will leave you with this quote from my interview today with Jay:

“I really try to keep up appearances.  And even though I don’t look homeless…sometimes when I walk around town on the street…I have kind of like a…a complex…that everyone is looking at me…judging me…and I feel like they know I am homeless.”



Sunday, November 8, 2009


"The recession will force 1.5 million Americans into homelessness this year."  

-PBS News

Reaching Out

I was very excited when Bonnie Rubin, from the Chicago Tribune (earlier post), wrote back to my e-mail.  She has written several articles following various homeless families.  I asked her how she goes about gaining access to such stories.  She wrote a lengthy e-mail and gave great insight, and recommended to work with school liaisons in finding a family.  She said it isn’t up to the shelters to speak for the homeless families.  She recommended I give the shelters my card, and see if any homeless family would be interested.  Just be available.  Lastly, she told me about a great resource:  

I contacted Diane Nelin, who runs this organization.  Diane works to raise awareness for homeless children and youth.  She also collects excellent articles about homelessness under the “homelessness in the news” section.  She was optimistic about the project and wrote:  “I'm sure it will shine a much needed light on an issue that needs good reporting, as Bonnie continues to do, and creative ways of telling people's stories as you aim to do.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Weekly Post: November already!

A large part of this week was dedicated to researching the technical aspects of my project.  I am planning on using audio for my multi-media story and need to purchase a flash recorder.  After speaking with Stephanie during our meeting, she gave great advice on the latest portable audio recorders available at a reasonable price.  Stephanie provided great websites and helped me understand the specs of various recorders so I know exactly what I am getting.

I spent 2 hours researching websites and figuring out what audio recorder I should purchase based on my budget.  I was just about to click the “buy now” button for the Olympus LS10 on, when I noticed in fine print it read “shipping may take 2-3 weeks.”  I called Full Compass right away and found out none were in stock and it would take closer to 4 weeks to arrive.  Four weeks is just too much time, so I called a few more places and found one store in Arizona “The Midi Store” that sells audio hardware.  The woman was very nice and agreed completely with Stephanie’s suggestion of the Olympus LS10.  Luckily, they had it in stock and I should be getting the recorder on Tuesday.  Picture of the recent purchase:

I spent another hour looking at various 2009 statistics recently published by Harvard about homelessness and the state of housing.  Glad to have found this resource because very few 2009 statistics have been published.

I spent another hour on Friday meeting with the Executive Director of Alpha House.  She really liked the idea of my project but mentioned the difficulties of privacy.  She said I would be able to interview people who have successfully went through the program and overcame homelessness.  I am definitely open to speaking with these people, and maybe one of them will have a compelling story that I would be able to use. 

She also gave me a video that a professional video company put together for Alpha House, where they interviewed 3 people who overcame homelessness.  I spent 30 minutes watching and re-watching the 9-minute video and critiquing it.  I believe this video is great to show at auction events because it communicates how Alpha House has brought these people back on their feet.  However, the video is long (9 minutes), thus not something that would be as effective if shown on a website because observers lose interest quickly.   The people interviewed are static-they tell their story as they sit in a chair.  For my stories, I want to frame the stories in a way to connect viewer with the story by emphasizing “it could happen to anyone.”  The visuals would not depict participants sitting stationery in a chair; photos would consist of participants in various environments (at work, in their home, cooking).  I want the viewer to feel like they know the person.

I spent another hour on the website.  Stephanie recommended I participate in “National Day of Listening”, where I sit down with a family member Thanksgiving weekend and record our conversation for one hour.  This is a great idea, and it will be great practice for my project in getting acquainted with the recording equipment; it will also be something very nice to have for my family.  This website is great because it has a section called the “question generator” giving examples of questions you might ask participants.   

I also spent another two hours doing more research on tent communities and found great articles that I will publish in another post.  

What I learned/encountered:

This week I enjoyed showing the photos to my classmates.  They gave great advice and some things to consider.  It was suggested that I look into video and creating a documentary. This is a definite possibility, but after further group discussion, we ruled this out because we agreed the format of a 2-3 minute multi-media story is more intimate.  I feel I could edit the audio to precisely match the photographs being displayed.  I also really enjoy how multi-media stories allow the viewer to connect the voice with the face in the photograph.  In addition, photographs allow viewers to focus on a specific object or person for a longer time.   This format is also great for sharing on the internet.  

I also received great news…Jay has agreed to be interviewed.  Once I get my recorder on Monday I am going to start dedicating times to interviewing him.  Do you suggest I meet for one-hour blocks a few times a week?  Or half-hour blocks multiple times?  Or one really long session?  Or just see how it goes?

I also have a few challenges when working with sound:  I have to deal with being outside and dealing with the wind and traffic factors.  I have to see how it goes- the outside sounds might actually enhance the piece.  I think I have to go out and see what happens.

What's next:

I am attending a lecture next Wednesday "Corporate Social Responsibility" which discusses how to fuse business with social action.  

I am going to follow up with all of the shelters.  

I am going to spend time learning about how to use the new audio recorder, which is very exciting!

I am going to start making a list of questions about what I am going to ask Jay.  I won't list off these questions to him one by one, but I will make notes about things I want to ensure I cover.  The more natural the conversation, the better.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yet Another Example

The Chicago Tribune has just published an article about the Maior's, a homeless family living in a 10 x 25 foot bunker filled with a large sofa, X-box, and big-screen TV.   The Maior's 12-year-old son says the situation is "really not that bad" even though he uses a flashlight to do his homework and cleans himself up in fast-food restaurant bathrooms.  The parents have filled out dozens of job applications, but with no response.  

I mentioned in previous posts how I want my project to represent the new homeless, and how this can happen to anyone, "even your next door neighbor".  This piece of the article echoes that:

According to recently released data, McHenry County's homeless enrollment increased by 125 percent from the 2007-08 school year to the 2008-09 school year -- the biggest hike in the six-county metropolitan area.  "These are not people in cardboard boxes," said Maggie Dempsey, homeless liaison coordinator for School District U-46, which covers 11 communities in the northwest suburbs. "These are the people next door."

I have e-mailed the author of the article to tell her about my project and ask about how she went about profiling this family.  I am curious because I have found it much easier to communicate with the homeless directly (tent community) rather than through shelters.  It will be interesting to see if she responds.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I have visited the tent community several times now.  Because I have their written consent, I can share some of the photographs I took of two homeless individuals living in the tent community, Jay & Michelle*.  These two people are very interesting and are just like you and me.  They are working very hard every day to find a job, but it is not easy.  Just a heads up:  these photos are much brighter than they appear; the blog has condensed the file and muted the colors.  Here are some photos:

*Name has been protected for privacy.