New exhibit taps creativity from the street

Tel Aviv’s homeless photography exhibit considered 'strongest yet’ by People of the Streets CEO, Alex Greenhalgh.

A PHOTO FROM the ‘Stories of the Street Tel Aviv’ exhibit. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A PHOTO FROM the ‘Stories of the Street Tel Aviv’ exhibit.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
People of the Streets CEO Alex Greenhalgh was disturbed by a campaign coming out of Nottingham, England, in 2017. The marketing was everywhere, urging locals not to help the homeless. This prompted Greenhalgh to create a “social enterprise” that would provide alternatives for people who were homeless. Today he puts disposable cameras in the hands of young homeless men, allowing them to show their experiences in photographic form. One of the results is Stories of the Street Tel Aviv, now on display at the Heaven community workspace, established by the Venn housing cooperative in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
The project exists in five cities across Europe, and now with the show in Tel Aviv, People of the Streets can say it operates in the Middle East as well. The exhibit opened to a warm reception attended by 250 people on Wednesday, August 28, at which Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Reuven Ladiansky spoke to community members, photographers, senior criminologists and community court representatives. They all wanted to see life through the lens of homeless people.
People of the Streets opens each project by partnering with social organizations in a city to locate those who will be the right fit for the program. Once the group (typically men in their 20s) come onboard, they’re given training on composition and lighting from professionals. They then take to the streets with their cameras and get to work. The photos on display in Tel Aviv are the works of eight homeless men between the ages of 21 and 42. The exhibit includes photos of nature, animals, dirt, grime and unusual locations. It also includes video art and audio pieces that the Venn community (locals who have a membership to the workspace), created to improve and diversify the exhibit. The space plays host to booths where visitors can listen to voice recordings from photographers talking about their stories.
Photos on display are for sale in their original form or as prints and postcards. The proceeds go to the photographers. Individuals who sell their pieces for big money don’t get cash, rather they use it to make an investment in themselves, with the support of group leaders. For example, one homeless photographer in Manchester was able to use his funds to buy a computer, which he now uses to produce and sell graphic designs. Tamar Shemesh, who works in Israel with People of the Streets together with partner Ben Maor to teach participants the basics of the craft, says the important part of the process is giving participants the choice to use their earnings as they see fit. Many of photographers come from dysfunctional or unsupportive families.
SHEMESH SAID everyone involved in the project was very excited to see the photos printed in large, high-quality versions.
“We wanted them to be part of making this exhibition happen. They are the ones who hung their own photos, and it was very fulfilling to see them so excited and involved in their own exhibition and to see them realize how big what they’ve done [is].”
Greenhalgh said an exhibit in Tel Aviv is a milestone for his organization, and of all the exhibitions he’s planned, Tel Aviv’s is the best he’s seen so far. He attributes this great success to Shemesh’s art instruction and Venn’s willingness to host the project. Primarily, however, he noted the talent and dedication of the photographers themselves.
“I think it is the strongest exhibition we have done so far in terms of the content. Video art is something we’ve never done before. I think these are the highest quality photos,” Greenhalgh said.
What do the photographers think? For many it was a personal transformation. One of the participants, who preferred to remain anonymous, spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his experience.
“This project helped me develop personal meaning. The project was very inspiring and helped me see the meaning of photography and the beauty of nature that I had ignored before,” he said. “I always ignored it because I didn’t want to. I didn’t stop for a minute and look at it.”
Shemesh said one of the project’s biggest success stories involved a young man who struggled to make it to weekly meetings and hold onto a job. He always seemed to battle with finishing what he started, including taking photographs between weekly instructional courses.
“We had a breaking point where we pushed hard, and after a few days he came and said ‘I did it. Here’s my camera.’ Today, he’s one of the most active in the group. So we could really see the progress he had gone through with the course and exhibition, and I am very proud of him,” Shemesh said.
After following up with a call to the young man’s social worker, Shemesh said the student has now held on to a new job for more than two months.
‘Stories of the Street Tel Aviv’ will remain on display at the Heaven shared workspace, Bar Yokhai St. 53, Tel Aviv, for another month. Visiting hours are Mondays and Thursdays, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.