Thursday, December 17, 2009

Semester Recap

Overall, I really feel great about this semester.  I have challenged myself in ways I never knew possible.

I am a very happy person and my favorite thing to do is laugh, so it is extremely ironic that I am doing a project on a seemingly intense and sad subject matter.  However, after these past four months of interacting with homeless individuals, I see my project as something positive.  I am so happy I got to interact with many homeless individuals throughout this process, because I have learned something very interesting:  many homeless people get through their everyday struggles with a sense of humor.  Many of the homeless individuals joke about their struggles, because it is how they can see past this temporary setback.  I feel I connect with a lot of these individuals because I approach them with a smile, not a “I feel bad for you” mindset.  I treat them as equal individuals because they are.

The December review provided great insight.  Right after the review I thought to myself  “I have no idea how that went!”  But afterwards, I realized this presentation is much different from the Sophomore Review.  The objective of the December review is to illicit great conversation and challenge the student.  I felt like my panel understood my project, and really went into great depths to have a conversation about next steps. They showed a big interest in my project because they had several questions. I also feel I provided an answer for every question.  One of the most interesting questions was regarding the black/white series of Jay’s images and handwriting:  “If those are his images and his captions, how is this YOUR art?  What is your role?”  I knew how to respond to this immediately; of course it is my art, my idea.   I was quick to respond that I am the one who created the idea of seeing life through a homeless person’s eyes.  I am taking his images and combining them with text to make powerful images.  I am making conscious choices about composition and color.  I am facilitating this process and creating a way for the homeless individual to get his story out.  I feel it is more powerful coming from his eyes.

Because I was able to respond in this matter, the same person then suggested I take it to further lengths and invite more homeless individuals to create work.  I could potentially design a show in which such collaborative work (between me and the homeless individual) is shown.    This is a very interesting idea, and one that I have been thinking about greatly over the past few days.

I also realized I need to be honest about how much work I am going to create over break.  I need a physical break from this project, but I must be honest, I can’t get away from it emotionally.  To give you an example, on the plane ride home yesterday, I sat next to two women (one in her 30s, the other in her late 40s).  We were all talking about where we are from/where we were going, and both individuals talked about how they were recently laid off and were flying to interview for new jobs.  The woman in her 30s was almost crying when showing us pictures of her 11 and 7 year old: “I have no idea what I am going to do.”  They talked about their upcoming interviews and struggles for over an hour.  What are the chances I would sit next to these two?!  (Also side note- the day before my flight I changed my original middle seat to an open aisle seat, and happened to sit by them)  But seriously, it is true:  a day doesn’t go by where I am thinking about the overall implications of the economy: homelessness.

Throughout this semester, I have really gotten to know my peers in a new way.  I am really happy with the work everyone has done and I am excited to show my parents my peer's work during the opening.  I almost feel like we should put together a directory online for the A&D class of 2010 that includes everyone’s e-mail and cell phone numbers because I think college peers are such a great resource.

I am happy with the connections and work I have made this semester, and I really look forward to going into next semester full force! 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Images

Here are some of the new images I put together from Jay's second disposable camera.  These are just a small few.

I had asked Jay his thoughts about panhandlers during the second interview.  He said he really dislikes them, especially the one who won't leave Ann Arbor/Saline Road by the highway entrance.  He took a photo of that man.

"I'm homeless, but I detest panhandlers...I can't get this guy to leave my front yard."

"Another stately home - I'm jealous at his facade"

Last week when it snowed, Jay came home from work to find all of the tents collapsed.  I didn't tell him to date any of his captions, but I really liked how he did on this one.  Makes it more real.

"Snow completely crushed my tent - I hate moving"

Remember in the last black/white series he took a picture of his two tents and wrote "My stately home and storage tent"?  Well check out the storage tent now.

"Storage Tent - Kaput!"  
How does he still manage to have a sense of humor throughout all of this?

"My new place - had to downsize"

One of my favorites:  Jay told me that one of the homeless members found a small tree in the woods and replanted it in the center of the tent community.  The tent community bought garland at Meijers and made pinecone ornaments.  Jay took a picture of it.

On one hand I find this tree really sweet and nice, but at the same time I find it unbelievably sad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weekly Post December 10

What I did:

Most of my time (6+ hours) was dedicated to putting my presentation together for December Review.  It was very important for me to communicate my process/research/objectives, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how I can convey this in a comprehensible form to the panel.  I really want the presentation to demonstrate how passionate I am about the topic, so I really hope that comes through.

I also spent two hours putting together the abstract for John Luther.  This is a vital component because this is the ultimate first impression.

In my last post I mentioned I was going to pick up photos from Jay.  I did, and found the new photos to be really sad.  The tents collapsed from the snow, and he took pictures to document this.  I will post all of these images within the next few days.  Some key captions he wrote, that are worth note:
"No one should live like this" (image of collapsed tent)
"My New Place - Had to Downsize" (image of his new, smaller tent)
"I'm homeless, but I detest panhandlers...I can't get this guy to leave my front yard." (image of panhandler)

I am going to post the pictures up very soon.

What I accomplished/achieved/discovered:

Hannah and my peers gave very helpful feedback after I presented on Tuesday. 
Sometimes it is hard to take a step back from your project because you are so close to it.

I also discovered the importance of completing the project to my fullest potential.  During finals week, it is so easy to be burnt out, but I must keep going.  Every time I see Jay, he says, "I can't wait to see your project at the end of the year." He even sent me an e-mail with his resume because "you might be able to use this for your piece."  I am lucky he is so willing to contribute.

What’s Next:

I am planning on presenting again to my friends who are non A&D majors to see their take on my presentation.

I am reaching out to multiple individuals in the next two weeks. 

I am going to transform the images I got from Jay to black/white, with his captions on them.

Practice, and fix my slideshow so that I can be confident for my December Review presentation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sad Text

Today I got a text message from Jay. "Major catastrophe.  Snow from last night collapsed all of our tents."

I gave him another disposable camera last week.  He sent a second text today stating he took pictures to document the collapsed tents.

So today I met him at the library to pick up the camera.  Just now I dropped it off at CVS and I will pick it up in one hour.  Will let you know how they turn out...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekly Post December 3

Is it really December already?

What I did: 

This week went well because I was able to gather more content for my project.  Going home for Thanksgiving was great because it allowed me to take a complete break from doing any physical work for my project.  Even still, the project was constantly on my mind. 

This week I spent a 2 hours writing my second reflection.  It was very helpful in backtracking and going through my thoughts during the interview.  The second interview was very interesting- I felt much more at ease and I think Jay did too.  He referred to our interview as a “therapy session”, which I thought was funny.  And then when he was talking about moving forward and how he has to stop letting the small things upset him, he said, “Wow, now this really does feel like a psychological session!”

Here is the list of questions I prepared for the second interview:

I spent an additional 3 hours reviewing the recording of the interview, making a timesheet, and picking out important parts of our interview.   I also spent another 4 hours on a collaborative project with Jay that I will talk about more later on in the post.  In addition, I spent some time experimenting with taking some of the quotes from the interview and creating pieces with expressive typography.  Here is an example of one piece:

Because Jay is so open to helping out my project, I thought it would be interesting to collaborate with him on a project.  During the interview I gave Jay a disposable camera and asked him to document his day.  He was very excited about the new assignment, and even wrote captions about each picture.  On Wednesday I met with Jay to pick up the camera and get the photos developed in print and digital form.  The actual prints came out OK, but the digital versions on a CD came out GREAT.  Here are some examples of Jay’s photos:

Because of the restraints of disposable cameras, Jay had to deal with various factors, including not being able to control the exposure rate or change the settings.  Because of various lighting constraints, I felt the photos looked much more crisp in black & white.  Black and white also allows the viewer to concentrate on certain parts of the composition as well.

In addition, Jay provided captions for all of his pictures:

I scanned in his written captions and inverted the black handwriting to white.  I then placed the handwriting onto the image, which created a very new feel.  I feel that combining image with his words creates a moving effect:

I love Jay’s tone of voice in these captions.  He is sarcastic and funny, yet personal.  Love his phrases: “My Stately Home” and “My Gated Community.”   

I want to continue with working on combining his captions with the photos.  I would like to combine all of the photos/captions and then edit down the ones I think are the best to show for December Review.

Today, SOS just sent me a woman’s contact information.  She went through the SOS program and overcame homelessness.  I am going to e-mail/call her in the next few days.  I think it would be interesting to communicate with someone who has overcome the obstacles of homelessness. 

What I learned/encountered/achieved:

I learned that I am slowly inching away from the multi-media storytelling approach.  I now have all of this content (photographs, collaborative projects, sound pieces) that I could potentially present in a new form.  Maybe a website?  Maybe an installation?  Maybe a book?  But this is okay.  I don’t have to limit my thoughts to just a multi-media story and I can be open to all opportunities.

I also have been taking notice (especially when doing the collaborative project with Jay) how people truly love creating art, even if they don’t consider themselves artists.  People love to make things, and to look at what they have made, even my friends who are non-art majors.  Jay was so excited about the project and has been e-mailing me back and forth about the pictures I sent him.  He also gave feedback about the black/white photos I put together.

What’s Next:

I am going to continue reaching out to various people, including this contact I received from SOS.  Collecting/collaborating/learning about people’s stories and communicating such stories to the public is very interesting and something I want to continue exploring.

This weekend will be dedicated to planning out my presentation for December Review.  I have to sit down and sort through all of the information and content I have collected/made over the past 3 months and figure out how I can communicate my process and project objectives.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Moment

In my first writing reflection I talked about the special moments during Jay's interview - the parts where he struggled to find the right word.  Here is an example of one of those moments:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reflection 2

I had another interview with Jay.   It went very well because I felt more comfortable and at ease in asking him personal questions.  Here is a reflection on my experience:

He walks into the library study room shaking his head and exclaims, “What a day!”  I shake Jay’s hand and say, “Thanks for meeting again. Is everything okay?”

“No, bad day,” he says as he sits down.  “It’s like a therapy session coming to you, I swear to god,” he says.

I laugh.  “Let’s talk about it,” I say as I assume the role of therapist.  This title is a somewhat accurate reflection, as Jay consumes 95% of the interview time and when I do speak, I keep the conversation moving by suggesting he “talk about his feelings on….” and “discuss your emotions about…”  I take notes throughout the session and he always seems fulfilled at the conclusion of the interview as he is able to discuss all on his mind.   

He begins, “Let me just backtrack, let me start by saying….there is a lot of time and effort involved for a person who is homeless to not look like they are homeless and get a job.  Everything takes two to three times longer.  You can’t stand totally upright in your tent because it isn’t tall enough.  Finding clothes, changing clothes….today I put some more 'Just-For-Men' in my hair…I had to warm up water to wash my hair outside....”

His face screams with frustration.  He continues talking about this for the next five minutes as I sit back, listen, and refer to my list of twenty questions written earlier in preparation.  I realize I might not be able to ask all questions today, but it is ok - as this is a raw moment of frustration.  Many people have no pity for the homeless and think, “it’s their own fault, just get a job.”  But it’s not that easy and right now he explains why.  What takes the average male 15 minutes to get ready in the morning, might take Jay close to two hours. 

He continues, “…..and then….I take a bus an hour to get there…to Colonial Bowling Lanes for my interview and……I forgot my license and social security card!  I can’t believe it….so now I have to go back tomorrow….which means I can’t wait on line for food stamps tomorrow, so I won’t have food stamps for a week.”

We talk about his other daily frustrations, including this evening, when he purchased ingredients to prepare chili and arrived back at his tent to find the can opener broken.  It’s the little things.  Halfway through the interview I glance through my questions.  There is one question I wanted to put forth.  It is very personal, but I believed important.

“Talk about the last time you cried.” I interjected.

He pauses and starts to tear. “Oh I felt like crying many times.  I don’t cry often, but what guy would say they would?  Since I have been homeless, I haven’t cried because I’m homeless.  I’ve cried…I cried the day I had to get rid of my cat… He is a good cat, really good-looking, black with gold and tan tiger stripes.  He has classic stripes…his name is Bella.  After Bella Legosi, first actor to play Dracula.  I get teary even thinking about it.”

I think about the emotions behind a pet’s death.  It’s part of you, part of the family.  I can’t even imagine leaving my dog behind because I could not adequately care for it due to homelessness. 

We talk more about his first experience canning at the Michigan football games.  He tells me he can make $25 before the first quarter in accumulating cans.  I then ask him about panhandling.  While he talks about it, he pauses for a moment in slight shock, as he catches himself categorizing himself as homeless: “Panhandlers….they give homeless people a bad rap.  I don’t like panhandlers.  Panhandlers give us…..well, us, I don’t even want to think of myself as the homeless…”  He pauses, “….but I am.”

Even after twelve weeks, he can’t get over the fact that he is homeless. 

He discusses how his self-confidence has been drastically affected.  Jay describes how social he was before homelessness. He said he could go up to Donald Trump at a cocktail party and engage in conversation.  He was comfortable approaching anyone and easily made friends. “But being in this situation, I feel…insecure...for the first time…ever….in my life.”

Before he leaves I give him an assignment.  “I have a project for you.  I have taken many pictures, but something is missing.  I need to capture your everyday experience.  And who better to capture that, than you?” He looks at me.

“I have a disposable camera for you.  I want you to take pictures of everything - your tent, your everyday journeys of securing a job, your bus routes, your friends, your walks, everything, even the most insignificant moment, take a picture.”

He said “Okay.”  He paused and smiled for a few seconds, “I like this!  I can do this.”

I pack up my equipment and am very happy he is excited about his new assignment.  But before I leave I end the interview with one last question: What motivates you to get up in the morning?

He takes a deep breath:  “What motivates me……is not being homeless.  I can’t sit around.  I mean…right now because it is cold.  You DON’T want to get out of bed in the morning.  I got plenty to keep me warm.  When you get out of the covers….and you can’t take a shower…you need to wipe yourself off with baby wipes… is cold.  It’s cold for a good five minutes.  You don’t want to get out of bed.  But if you don’t get out of bed, you won’t get a job. So there is motivation.  Motivation to get some doorknobs….get some heat…that is your motivation.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Perfect Storm

Mike Horvath was at one time a successful TV executive who became homeless.  Now that he has overcome homelessness, he has a plan:  to raise awareness.  His website includes videos of homeless individuals (like the one above) and how they struggle everyday.  He interviews homeless people from California to New York.

He discusses how today we have a "crisis on our hands....a perfect storm of homelessness."

He was featured on the front page of today.  Check it out.  He also uses social media to raise awareness, something I most definitely need to start doing in the next semester.

Interesting point:  when I interviewed Jay and asked him what the public can do to help the homeless, his response wasn't even a monetary solution.  It was:  "to have some compassion."  Similarly, many people in this video said the same.