ACS CEO Blodgett captures portraits of homeless in powerful book that gives a glimpse into their struggling lives.
Their portraits compel the reader to ask questions: How did they get here? How do they survive? What were they feeling when the photos were shot? Through their sometimes soiled faces, expressionless stares, eclectic outfits, or telling bodily injuries, each of the displaced people photographed in Lynn Blodgett’s “Finding Grace, the Face of America’s Homeless” offers a glimpse of the humanity in a segment of the population so often ignored by mainstream America.
“Finding Grace” (Palace Press) is not the first published work documenting the struggles of the homeless, but it is the first photographed by the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. An amateur photographer since he was 10 years old, ACS’ Blodgett’s work is a compilation of 50 photo shoots—the results of which are powerful black-and-white portraits of homeless men, women, and children across the country, from a veteran living on the gritty streets of Newark, NJ to resilient children surviving in the affluent beachside community of Santa Monica, CA. Shot over a three-year span, the book says as much about the humanity of the homeless as the efforts of one man willing to spend the time, money, and emotional investment required to complete the book.
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Blodgett, who recently spoke to HRO Today about his work, conceded that when he began the project, he was as unenlightened about the plight of the homeless as most people are. Nearly invisible to the general public, they often are overlooked and dismissed as lazy or unwilling to fend for themselves, Blodgett said. However, after photographing scores of the homeless—people that he personally approached and convinced to sit for their photos—Blodgett said he came away with an understanding of them as individuals as well as an appreciation of what one person can do to make a difference in the lives of many people.
“The [initial] underlying driver in starting to do the book was for the artistic value,” said Blodgett. “That went away pretty quickly. These people have a story to tell, and people don’t look at the homeless. This is a way to force people to look. That’s what struck me. I was forced to look into their eyes and take their picture. Their cause and humanity became a much stronger driver.”
Blodgett’s advocacy role didn’t start out that way; he came to take up their cause in a much more inadvertent way. While attending a photography workshop in 2003, Blodgett was sent out on a day-long photo assignment to shoot subjects around Santa Fe, NM. After capturing the portrait of a homeless man and his son, he discovered this overlooked part of the population had many stories and was afflicted by a wide range of conditions—emotional and physical. “The thing about the homeless that was so captivating was their humanity,” he said.
Since then, Blodgett said he has visited shelters around the country to photograph the homeless. The 50 shoots that spanned three years resulted in telling photos of individual, couples, and families. Among them is Barbara, whose blank stare and weathered skin adorn the book’s cover in a powerful statement that conveys both disillusionment and resiliency. Others display tenderness, such as the portrait of a young mother and daughter photographed in Raleigh, NC. Throughout the book, captions provide brief details about various subjects and the struggles they faced.
Blodgett said early on in the project he was faced with difficult realities of working on the book. For instance, it was emotionally wrenching to hear about many of his subjects’ plights (he conceded that he help some of them following the shoot but declined to elaborate in what way). Also, he initially struggled with the question of whether to pay the subjects—he gave them $10 each after deciding it would both benefit the subjects and ensure their cooperation in the shoot.
Funds from the sale of the books will be used to help with the Finding Grace Initiative, an organization that will help raise additional funding to increase homelessness awareness.
Although Blodgett pointed out that his book was not an ACS initiative, he also noted that corporations and other CEOs have an obligation to help address social problems such as homelessness. “I think you do have a responsibility as a company. Companies need to be mindful of their communities,” he said. “They need to be an asset and not a liability.”