‘A Snapshot of Homelessness from the Rare Perspective of Those Who Are Living It’
Anastasia Fair confesses that she once walked past the homeless inhabitants of Kansas City with very little empathy. “I’d be, like, ‘just go to a shelter or something,’” she recalls.
“But when you actually experience it, it’s totally different.”
Fair has now been homeless, herself, for more than a year, an experience she says is marked by an endless succession of daily waits. Leave the shelter where she’s staying at 5 in the morning, and while away the time until she can get into the downtown Central Library at 9. Stand in line for breakfast. Then lunch. Then dinner. Sign up for another night’s stay at the shelter at 3:30, and kill another hour and a half until getting a bed.
“When they see you sitting on a bench, they think, ‘Oh, he just doesn’t want to work,’ or ‘Oh, he’s just lazy,’” Fair says. “Usually, we’re waiting for something.”
Given a chance earlier this year to give others a glimpse into her world, Fair didn’t hesitate. As part of a Kansas City Public Library initiative, she was one of 12 people experiencing homelessness who were handed disposable cameras and asked to document their lives or simply photograph whatever they found interesting or appealing.
The result was Indisposable, a pop-up exhibit offering “a snapshot of homelessness from the rare perspective of those who are living it.” The affecting collection of 44 photos featured scenes from the streets, others from a wooded homeless camp, personal portraits and a few artistic shots. On display June 2 through 9 in the Central Library’s grand first-floor foyer, it struck a clear chord with the hundreds of Library patrons and visitors who viewed it.
Other agencies and organizations inquired: Could they show it, too? Indisposable became a traveling exhibit, running for nearly two weeks in July at the local Morning Glory Ministries shelter and more than a month in August and September at the Kansas City Community Kitchen. It had a couple of one-night stays at The Arts Asylum and again at Morning Glory.
A few Crossroads district galleries expressed interest in hosting it in December. Others have been in touch about trying to replicate it.
The Library wants to use the same format for another exhibit featuring the photographs of immigrants, pointing to a possible May opening.
“I was kind of taken aback by the response,” says Jason Pearl, a KCPL outreach librarian who oversees the initiative. “I think the appeal is probably the fact people are getting insight into a world they normally wouldn’t see.
“It gives me a great sense of satisfaction. So often, you’re not able to measure the impact of your work. We do programming here that reaches a lot of people experiencing homelessness, but you might give them a referral to an agency . . . and you never know the outcome of that. With this, you’re actually building relationships with those individuals (through their participation as photographers).”
The Indisposable concept was borrowed from the Dallas Public Library’s Homeless Engagement Initiative. Pearl and then-colleague Emily Luedtke, both working as AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) in the Library’s community outreach department, pitched it at one of KCPL’s monthly Coffee and Conversations sessions with homeless patrons. They distributed the first batch of disposable cameras in March, a second set was issued in April, and all were collected by early May.
Acclaimed Kansas City photographer Mike Sinclair joined Anne Ducey, the Library’s exhibits director, in combing through more than 150 images. The exhibit debuted in connection with KCPL’s Art Starts at the Library open house on First Friday in June.
“I never really thought of myself as an artist, and I still don’t,” Fair says. “But I wanted to show people what it’s like to be homeless.”
John King, another of the participating photographers, says he hoped people would come away with “a sense of hope, a sense of inspiration. That not all homeless people are drunks or addicts or the refuse of society.
“I want them to come away with a sense that we’re people, too,” he says, “and we deserve to be heard. We deserve to be seen.”