Saturday, May 31, 2014

Plan II

I hope I never grow tired of explaining what Plan II Honors is. (Too late.) But I am truly proud to have graduated from such an excellent program. Plan II Honors promotes a "Renaissance" education with emphasis on analytical thinking, creative writing, and courses taken in the humanities.

Freshmen year consisted of two world literature classes, a logic class, and a Plan II signature course. Lisa Moore taught my two semesters of world lit and we only read books written by females--Margery Kempe to Aphra Behn to T.S. Eliot to Jane Austen. My signature course, Pathways to Civic Engagement, was taught by Lee Walker and the class was organized by concepts--sense of place, justice, entrepreneurship, healthcare, etc.

During my sophomore year, I took two semesters of philosophy. This was probably the most disliked course of Plan II. Mmm...I frequently skipped this class. (Oops. Sorry parents). Sophomore year also meant Plan II Math and Plan II Biology. Numbers, and math, and science. Not favorites.

Finally, junior year. This meant two junior seminars. The courses offered for junior seminars vary greatly each semester. During the fall, I enrolled in Admiral Inman's Perspectives on U.S. Foreign Policy. I wrote an extensive paper analyzing the history of US-Cuban relations, and measuring the relative efficiency of the US embargo with Cuba. During the spring, I enrolled in David Adelman's Climate Change: Law, Science & Policy. I wrote another extensive paper that analyzed social media use by five major oil corporations, and their discussion of climate change. I also looked at the social media impact of several climate change conferences (COP15 - COP18) at Copenhagen, CancĂșn, Durban, and Doha.

Somewhere along the way, Plan II Honors requires enrollment in a social science course--Plan II anthropology or psychology--and the dreaded Plan II physics course. Plan II physics = tears, sleepless nights, panic and anxiety, and a lesson in failure. Total failure. But surprisingly, by spring semester of my senior year, I was preoccupied with something much larger (ahem..thesis) and thus, experienced only minor meltdowns. I'm a survivor.

Finally, a Plan II Honors education culminates in an undergraduate thesis project. For the past year, I worked alongside professors Steve Hoelscher and Dennis Darling to examine the historic correlation between documentary photography and social problems, specifically homelessness. My thesis, Cardboard Testimonies: Addressing Misconceptions regarding Homelessness through Documentary Photography.

Over the past year, I worked on my Plan II Honors undergraduate thesis. I explored the historic correlation between documentary photography and homelessness since the 1890's. I studied the work of several photographers--Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange, Paul Fusco, Bruce Gilden--and the impact that their photographs had on public perception of homelessness. This research influenced my own approach to photographing homelessness in Austin. An extensive blog post detailing more of my thesis experience is on the way.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Cardboard Testimonies

I would like to share my thesis with friends, family, and you. Unfortunately, I cannot embed a 120 page PDF onto the blog, nor would you want me too. A good chunk of it is research. I mainly want to highlight the homeless men and women who I had the privilege of meeting while writing my thesis. Over the next month, I will share the stories and conversations from homeless men and women in Austin.

Abstract:

In the late 1970’s, factors like the economic recession, an increasing unemployment rate, and the advent of crack led to a national increase in homelessness. The noticeable rise of homelessness initiated a national conversation and raised questions regarding the health of the US economy and the effectiveness of American social institutions to care for those below the poverty level. As a result, the terms “homeless” and “homelessness” grew more common during the 1980’s, along with accompanying misconceptions about the homeless community.

Since its inception, documentary photography has been used to address social problems. Drawing inspiration from photographers Jacob Riis in the 1890s, Dorothea Lange and Walkers Evans of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression Era, and more modern photographers, I wanted to explore various approaches to photographing poverty and homelessness. The works of these photographers helped shape and define my own journey and stylistic approach to documenting homelessness in present-day Austin through photography and oral narratives.

There is power in a photograph and in a story, just as there is significance in simply knowing a stranger’s name. The resulting body of work is a juxtaposition of photographs and art created by men and women living homeless in Austin. This collaborative art and accompanying life stories were gathered in Austin, Texas over a ten-month period in 2013 and 2014.

Personal:

The desire to meet and communicate the stories of homeless men and women has stayed with me since a high school mission trip to serve the homeless in San Francisco. Throughout college, I have been encouraged by my experiences with the men and women living near the University of Texas at Austin campus in Austin, Texas. I have had the fortune of meeting strangers eager to share their stories, and who often desire more than money. During my freshmen year, I apprehensively approached a man with face tattoos and multiple piercings who introduced himself as Jailbird Jay. I offered him a sandwich, and in return, he asked for a hug and proceeded to tell me about his journey from Albuquerque to Austin. But within West Campus, I have also seen varied reactions to the homeless men and women that linger on “The Drag.” Racial slurs, a fistfight between a homeless man and a college student, averted glances, and the rare glob of flying spit. I want to address these reactions, and thereby explore perceptions and related misconceptions regarding homelessness.

While my own experiences shaped my perception of homelessness, I believe that a photograph and a story may accomplish the very same. As I look at photographer Paul Fusco’s photos of the homeless in San Francisco during the 1980s, for example, I can draw parallels to my own experience three decades later. The faces of his subjects captured in photographs are as familiar as those of the people I met on streets of the Tenderloin District. These photographs complement my own memories, but given the opportunity to repeat my San Francisco experience, I would take a camera and photograph the Tenderloin myself. I would choose to capture images of people that society tends to ignore. I would use photography to preserve in an image their humanity and life stories.

I have found that I can recreate similar experiences and interactions with homeless people here in Austin. More importantly, I can use photographs to bring awareness to the problem of homelessness. Within my thesis, I draw inspiration from photographers who have documented the plight of American homelessness since the 1890s. Looking at three distinct periods of economic hardship in the United States, I explore correlation between documentary photography and poverty. By using the photographic medium, I hope to address misconceptions that society may have toward homeless men and women living on the streets in Austin. I hope to make the homeless visible for you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Homeless Wedding

Over the past year, I worked on my Plan II Honors undergraduate thesis and explored the historic correlation between documentary photography and homelessness since the 1890's. I studied the work of several photographers--Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange, Paul Fusco, Bruce Gilden--and the impact that their photographs had on public perception of homelessness. This research influenced my own approach to photographing homelessness in Austin. An extensive blog post detailing more of my thesis experience is on the way, but first I want to share a photo story about my friends.

One day, Ray Ray and Joyce shared news that they were getting married.
The following semester, I photographed their wedding.

It is a gift...that a thesis and interactions with strangers could lead to a beautiful moment such as this. It is Jesus. Please enjoy the following photos, and please check out the wedding video by Barrett, located here.
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lakies

We went to Matt's house on Lake Buchanan this past Sunday in honor of his great, grand 22nd birthday! Hurrah! Let summer begin and celebrations continue! No goodbyes or so longs to our friends. Just "see ya laters" and open, hanging promises to run into each other. It's a small world, after all.

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