Photo exhibit at Santa Ana Art Walk gives glimpse into homeless life
There will be something special at the Santa Ana Art Walk this Saturday: works by photographers whose view of the world isn’t usually on display.
In February, Newport Beach resident Susan Menning gave disposable cameras to homeless people who live around the Santa Ana Civic Center. The idea was two-fold: to raise visibility for the Heart of Delight Foundation, a Irvine-based homeless services nonprofit, and to show the lives of people who live on the street, from the inside.
“Inside / Out” is the name of the exhibit that opens at the Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana this Saturday and will continue through the end of August. The two dozen photos from three homeless men – Jimi Fellows, James Carroll and Lorenzo Benitez – show a view few of us see, Menning said.
“The attention they get from the outside world, let’s say, that is primarily very negative,” Menning said.
Through art, she hopes to give them the chance at positive attention instead.
The project began when Menning met Ian Daelucian, a UC Irvine fine arts graduate student at the time and the founder of the Heart of Delight.
“We were talking about how can we humanize this population for people who basically see them out of the window of a passing car,” Menning recalled.
So Menning, who retired as the head of communications at UC Irvine several years ago, provided disposable cameras for about 10 people. She had already met Benitez and hired him to hand out the cameras and collect them. In addition to paying Benitez to organize the project on the street, she gave $25 to each photographer for each camera returned as an incentive.
The results were surprising.
“There was some stuff of an artistic nature that I wasn’t expecting. … There’s just kind of a haunting beauty to a lot of them. There’s a vision of life that you and I would probably not see.”
One photo by Benitez is a colorful composition of orange walls contrasting with green bushes and blue sky, but it also shows homeless life: a dingy mattress tucked into the corner of a back alley. Some are sobering, like a photo of a memorial scrawled on a doorstep for a 31-year-old woman.
Fellows said he’s known in the homeless community as “the artist.” Putting his work out to the public is a first, and he said he’s both excited and nervous.
“When people see homeless, they automatically think negative,” Fellows said.
Fellows is from Costa Mesa and spent several years in and out of prison for burglary and theft, which was to support his drug habit, he said. He’s been clean for 17 years, he said, and out of prison for the last three. He’s hopeful his art and the photography project will be the start of something that can get him off the street.
“I have a good feeling about this” he said of the art show. “It’s going to be good. … I do have faith it’s going to happen for me.”
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