Last Friday, Carl Jordan walked around the Flatiron District, snapping photos of bright sun coming through leaves, piles of garbage and water fountains in Madison Square Park, which he said back in the day was called the “stroll.”
His photographer mentor, Michael Weschler, followed him, helping him frame his shots, giving him feedback and occasionally holding Jordan’s cane, which he has used since a recent knee surgery.
Jordan, a 62 year old sharp dresser who talks with his hands, will tell you about the homeless outreach work he does through his mosque and the organization Muslims Giving Back, and the gimmicks and scams that street homeless run. What he won’t immediately tell you is that he is homeless himself, living in temporary housing in the South Bronx and trying to get into permanent housing for seniors.
“Homelessness is not a crime, it’s a situation,” Jordan said. “It happened to me, look at where I’m at now. It happens to everybody, so much of New York City is one paycheck away from the same place.”
Jordan, 62, is one of 14 homeless photographers selected for a project earlier this year with the NYC Department of Homeless Services and the Heart Gallery NYC that pairs homeless mentees with professional photographers.“Through the Eyes of the Homeless,” had an opening reception on Monday night, where the photographers got to see their photos on display, and were each given cameras of their own.
“It’s a learning experience for me too, and I appreciate that he’s grateful" said Weschler, a photographer who shoots for magazines and advertising campaigns. “I’ve seen him raise his self-esteem — he was reluctant to do it. [Homeless] people so often think we want something from them and they’re tired of that. They feel interrogated, so in this case we very clearly said, no, we’re giving you cameras, we just ask that you don’t break them, do whatever you want and show us what you see.”
The most recent count of New York City's homeless was 57,774, according to the city shelter numbers.
Jordan said he’s “delighted” at the idea of seeing his photos displayed, and hopes the show encourages real change in how the homeless are treated.
“I’m not saying the mayor’s not down, I’m saying we need another voice to express what we need. He’s listening… I’m 62 years old, I don’t know how many days I have left on this planet, but every day I do I’m going to try to do the right thing. My job is to help people now,” Jordan said.
Laurie Sherman Graff, executive director of Heart Gallery NYC, said her organization primarily works with foster children and pairs them with professional photographers. She said the city approached the nonprofit after hearing about a similar project with homeless people in Paris.
“It really has been an incredible process,” Sherman Graff said. “We have a huge number of youth in foster care who age out and do end up homeless, and a few of the 14 were former foster youth.”
Sherman Graff said they weren’t sure all of the donated cameras would come back after they lent them to the photographers for a week (they did).
“In terms of work, it’s beautiful,” Sherman Graff said. "They’re not pictures of sadness, necessarily, not of other homeless people but pictures of how they actually saw the city.”
The show will be on display in the lobby of the Department of Homeless Services this week, followed by City Hall on Nov. 24 and then the City Council building at 250 Broadway.
“I just hope it motivates and inspires everyone,” said Karen Shaffer of the Department of Homeless Services. “We hope it opens the door to recognizing homelessness — it could be any of us — and that these are real people that need assistance like affordable housing.”