A picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve all heard this, it has been well documented in print and through endearing words of iconic songs. In an age of “selfies,” we are guilty of trying to capture our best angles and utilize filters to add pizazz to our photos.
We try to tell a story without captions by snapping off a moment in time with our camera or some other artist’s medium. With the right light and background ensconcing a curious face with a humorous twinkle in the eye, we can tell a complete story. The viewer doesn’t lack for an explanation or cursory guidelines on what they are looking at it.
Yes, a photo can not only tell a story, but touch people in ways that spoken words could never do. Have you ever caught yourself peering into the eyes of a stranger in a picture, wondering what lies beyond that sad flicker in their eyes? You can tell they are trying to let their outer beauty shine for the photographer, but deep down emotions are welling up in the creases of their mouth and that sadness is undeniable. And, sometimes it is easier to seek to really see someone through the safety of a photo or on the internet rather than face-to-face interactions which are becoming so difficult for many. A series of photos capturing the heart of people everywhere are originating from Downtown Sarasota. You might imagine they would capture glimpses of the rich and famous hitting the latest rooftop haunt or art gallery opening. Perhaps they feature an upscale condo which has been beautifully revamped by an up and coming designer. Or maybe this photo collection is focusing on the people who live just down the road, who sleep on the sidewalk as a matter of fact. These are Sarasota’s homeless, and one local photographer has made it his mission to bring their stories to light.
“Homelessness in Focus” is a series of pictures depicting life on the streets for millions of Americans, specifically those who reside in upscale Sarasota. Shot by acclaimed photographer, Allan Mestel, the photos show the individuals who live in and around the Downtown area, trying to survive hunger, the heat, and the dangers associated with homelessness. He chooses to humanize these individuals who have fallen to this point in their lives for a variety of reasons; drugs, loss of a job or divorce, death of a family member or a million other reasons that could find the average person also without the resources for proper shelter. By staying at eye level with all of his subjects, Allan never assumes the position of looking down on them, but rather seeing them face-to-face.
When your works are applauded by not only the art critics but also a wide array of fans, a photographer of Allan Mestel’s stature could shoot pictures of anything he wanted, from exotic locations to beautiful models. Instead, this photographer wishes to shed light on the plight of those without proper shelter. After attending “Food Shares,” events where the homeless are invited to gather for a free meal, Allan saw a gentleness and vulnerability that was pervasive amongst those who attended. According to Allan, these people “need to be humanized, they are our neighbors.” Though Sarasota has made strides in the past several years to help the plight of the homeless, Allan insists there is so much more work to be done. With the only cure being engagement, he hopes his photos, which have gone viral many times over when posted, will be the catalyst to put a face on those who are sleeping on the ground mere steps from where multi-millionaires live in their comfortable condos.
This fall, “Homelessness in Focus” will be featured at the Lexow Wing Gallery at Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota. The Sarasota Post will be on hand to cover the event. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Allan Mestel’s “Homelessness in Focus” series, please visit mestelphoto.com and streetworkstudios.com.
Photos courtesy of Allan Mestel.