Transcript: Portraits of Homelessness in Black and White | Aug 08, 2018

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a spotted gray blazer over a white shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Portraits of homelessness in black and white. Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says AT JUST 17 YEARS OLD,
COLLINGWOOD, ONTARIO'S LEAH
DENBOK PUBLISHED HER FIRST BOOK
OF PHOTOGRAPHS.
IN IT, SHE CAPTURED THE LIVES OF
MEN AND WOMEN WHO OFTEN SEEM
INVISIBLE TO MANY PEOPLE.
IT WAS THE FIRST OF TWO VOLUMES
CALLED:
NOWHERE TO CALL HOME:
PHOTOGRAPHS AND STORIES OF
PEOPLE EXPERIENCING
HOMELESSNESS.

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a black and white picture of a young person with their eyes closed and a blood stain on their mouth.

Nam says PROCEEDS FROM THAT VOLUME WENT
TO THE SALVATION ARMY'S BARRIE
BAYSIDE MISSION CENTRE.
WITH VOLUME 2 JUST NOW BECOMING
AVAILABLE, WE'RE PLEASED TO
WELCOME TO OUR STUDIO WRITER AND
PHOTOGRAPHER LEAH DENBOK AND
MAJOR DOUG LEWIS, EXECUTIVE
DIRECTOR, BARRIE BAYSIDE MISSION
CENTRE.

Leah is in her twenties, with long wavy chestnut hair. She's wearing a red shirt.
Doug is in his sixties, balding, with a trimmed goatee. He wears a formal military suit with red decorations, a white shirt and a gray tie.

Nam says HI TO YOU BOTH.

Leah says HI.

Nam says IT'S NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

Doug says WE'RE EXCELLENT; THANK YOU.

Nam says LEAH, IN VOLUME 1 OF
NOWHERE TO
CALL HOME,
YOU POINT OUT THAT
YOU ONLY PUBLISHED THE BOOK AS A
RESULT OF THE SUPPORT OF JOEL
SARTORE, WHO'S A PHOTOGRAPHER
WITH
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.
HOW DID HE COME TO KNOW ABOUT
YOUR WORK?

The caption changes to "Leah Denbok. Photographer, 'Nowhere to call home.'"
Then, it changes again to "Influences and inspiration."

Leah says SO WHEN I HAD FIRST STARTED
TAKING PICTURES, I WAS 12 YEARS
OLD, AND I HAD JUST FOUND A LOT
OF INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY, SO I
WENT AND BOUGHT A USED DSLR FROM
A LOCAL HOCKSHOP.
AND AT THE TIME, I WAS JUST
TAKING PHOTOS OF JUST RANDOM
THINGS AROUND MY TOWN, AND I
REALLY DIDN'T THINK THEY WERE
ANY GOOD, SO MY DAD HAD ARRANGED
FOR ME TO SKYPE WITH JOEL
SARTORE, WHO HAD TAUGHT A
LECTURE THAT I HAD WATCHED
CALLED THE FUNDAMENTALS OF
PHOTOGRAPHY, AND HE HAD SENT MY
WORK TO JOEL, AND JOEL HAD
RESPONDED SAYING, "LEAH'S WELL
ON HER WAY OF BECOMING NOT JUST
A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER, BUT A GREAT
PHOTOGRAPHER.
AND I'M NOT KIDDING."
AND I GUESS SINCE I WAS JUST 12
AT THE TIME, WE FOUND THAT QUITE
A COMPLIMENT, ESPECIALLY COMING
FROM JOEL, BECAUSE HE'S...

Nam says IT'S A HUGE COMPLIMENT!
HI!

[LAUGHS]

Nam says WELL DONE!

Leah says SO I DECIDED NOT TO QUIT, LIKE I
WAS GOING TO.
AND AFTER THAT COMMENT, WE
DECIDED THAT I WOULD SKYPE WITH
JOEL REGULARLY... AND GRADUALLY, HE SORT OF TOLD
ME TO HONE IN ON A CERTAIN
ASPECT OF PHOTOGRAPHY THAT I WAS
THE BEST AT, AND HE TOLD ME I
WAS THE BEST AT PORTRAITURE.
SO, I STARTED TO FOCUS MORE ON
PORTRAITURE.
AND THEN GRADUALLY, WE HAD COME
TO HIM WITH THE IDEA OF
PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS,
AND WE HAD SHOWN HIM A COUPLE
IMAGES, AND HE SAID HE THOUGHT
IT WAS A GREAT IDEA, AND REALLY
THOUGHT THAT IT... THE PHOTOS WERE
TURNING OUT GREAT, SO WE SORT OF
WENT IN THAT DIRECTION.
AND HE HELPED A LOT WITH
SUGGESTING THAT I USE
BLACK-AND-WHITE BACKDROPS, AND
HELPING WITH THE LIGHTING I USE
AND STUFF LIKE THAT AS WELL.

Nam says AND YOUR MOM HAS... SHE HAS A
POIGNANT STORY.

A picture shows a girl with short hair at the age of around 7, standing next to a smiling mustached man outdoors. A nun standing nearby holds a child in her arms.

Leah says SO, YES, MY MOM'S STORY IS
VERY INTERESTING, FOR SURE.
SHE WAS FOUND ON THE STREETS OF
CALCUTTA, INDIA AT THE AGE OF
THREE.
AND SHE WAS BROUGHT TO MOTHER
THERESA'S ORPHANAGE WHERE SHE
WAS RAISED TILL THE AGE OF FIVE
AND THEN ADOPTED TO CANADA.
SO, SHE WAS REALLY HOMELESS AT A
YOUNG AGE.
AND THIS ISN'T THE REASON THAT I
BEGAN TO PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS,
THOUGH, IT DEFINITELY HAS HAD AN
IMPACT ON ME.
PROBABLY AT LEAST SUBCONSCIOUSLY
THOUGH.

Nam says SO, WHAT WAS THE REASON THAT
DREW YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Leah says SO THERE'S A BRITISH
PHOTOGRAPHER NAMED LEE JEFFRIES,
AND HE ALSO TAKES PHOTOS OF
PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS
IN BLACK AND WHITE WITH HIGH
CONTRAST.

A black and white portrait shows a wrinkled-face person smoking.

Leah says AND WHEN MY DAD SHOWED ME HIS
WORK, I LIKE REALLY LOVED IT.
AND I WAS REALLY DRAWN TO HOW HE
WAS ABLE TO ENCAPSULATE
SOMEONE'S STORY JUST THROUGH
LIKE THEIR EYES AND THEIR
GESTURES AND STUFF LIKE THAT.
AND I REALLY WANTED TO DO THAT
MYSELF.
SO, MY DAD SUGGESTED WE GO TO
TORONTO AND TRY PHOTOGRAPHING
SOME PEOPLE EXPERIENCING
HOMELESSNESS.
AND GRADUALLY, AFTER MEETING THE
PEOPLE AND TALKING TO THEM,
WE REALIZED HOW BIG OF A PROBLEM
HOMELESSNESS WAS AND HOW
STEREOTYPED IT WAS AS WELL.
WE CAME TO SEE THAT THESE PEOPLE
ARE OFTEN QUITE KIND AND HUMBLE
PEOPLE.
AND YOU ALWAYS HEAR SUCH
NEGATIVE THINGS ABOUT THEM,
AND REALLY, THAT'S NOT THE CASE.
IT COULD HAPPEN TO ANY OF US.
SO, WE DECIDED TO TURN IT INTO A
PROJECT, AND SO WE'VE BEEN DOING
IT FOR ABOUT FOUR YEARS NOW.

Nam says AND NOW YOU HAVE VOLUME 2.
WELL, IN VOLUME 2, YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Untouchables." The quote reads "In India, where my mother was born, lower caste Hindus were once called untouchables. To touch such people, or even, as was the case in South India, to look at them, was to 'pollute' oneself. People experiencing homelessness today, I would argue, are the untouchables of Western society. One must not touch them -lest one become dirty, or infected with germs- or even make eye contact with them -lest one feel obligated to give them money.
I think this is a shame. For people experiencing homelessness, are some of the most pleasant people I have met. Devoid of possessions, spurned by society, and beaten down by life, they are, more often than not, humble and grateful for any act of kindness shown to them."
Quoted from Leah Denbok, 'Nowhere to call home, Vol. 2.' 2018.

Nam says DOUG, DOES THAT PORTRAYAL OF THE
HOMELESSNESS... PEOPLE WHO ARE
HOMELESS MESH WITH YOUR
EXPERIENCE WITH THEM AT THE
HOMELESS SHELTER?

The caption changes to "Doug Lewis. Barrie Bayside Mission Centre."
Then, it changes again to "A difficult reality."

Doug says NO QUESTION.
I THINK IT'S THE IDEA THAT THE
PEOPLE LIKE TO THINK THEY ARE
INVISIBLE, AND THEN EVENTUALLY,
THE... THOSE INDIVIDUALS WILL FEEL
INVISIBLE.
AND SO PEOPLE TRY TO IGNORE THEM
OR DON'T WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING
TO DO WITH THEM OR THINK THEY
MAY BECOME UNCLEAN... IF WE CAN
USE THAT WORD AGAIN... BY TOUCHING
THEM OR HAVING CONTACT WITH
THEM.
AND YET AS LEAH MENTIONED,
THEY'RE NOT BAD PEOPLE.
MAYBE THEY'VE MADE BAD CHOICES,
MAYBE THEY'VE MADE SOME BAD
DECISIONS, BUT THEY'RE NOT BAD
PEOPLE.
IT'S JUST AT THAT POINT IN THEIR
LIFE WHERE THEY'RE AT THE
BOTTOM.

Nam says AND HAVING WORKED WITH PEOPLE
WHO ARE HOMELESS, WHEN WE TREAT
THEM LIKE THIS, IT MUST HAVE AN
EMOTIONAL IMPACT BEYOND
EVERYTHING THAT THEY'RE FACING
ON THE STREETS.

Doug says NO QUESTION.
THEY CAN BECOME DEFENSIVE THEN,
OR THEY CAN BECOME AGGRESSIVE,
DEPENDING ON HOW THEY'VE BEEN
TREATED, HOW THEY'VE BEEN
REACTED TO.
AND SO THEN THEY TAKE THAT OUT
IN VARIOUS WAYS.
EITHER... AGAIN, BY BEING
DISRESPECTFUL TO THE OTHER
PEOPLE OR BEING RECLUSIVE AND
KEEPING INTO THEMSELVES, AND IN
A SENSE, GIVING UP ALL HOPE AT
THAT POINT.

Nam says AND LEAH'S BOOK MENTIONS THAT
SEVERAL OF HER SUBJECTS HAVE
BEEN KICKED OUT OF SHELTERS.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST
CHALLENGES YOU'RE FACING DEALING
WITH HOMELESS... THE HOMELESS?

Doug says THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS
AFFORDABLE HOUSING, WHICH IS A
WHOLE DIFFERENT ISSUE.
BUT AS THEY COME TO A SHELTER,
AND AS WE'RE ABLE TO WORK THEM,
FIND OUT WHAT THEIR NEEDS ARE,
WHY THEY'RE IN THE SITUATION
THEY'RE IN, AND GET THEM TO THE
POINT... THE IDEA IS TO GET THEM
TO THE POINT WHERE THEY CAN BE
IN INDEPENDENT LIVING AGAIN.
BUT ONCE THEY COME THROUGH A
PROGRAM, ANY TYPE OF PROGRAM, OR
THROUGH A SHELTER, THERE'S NO
PLACE TO REFER THEM BECAUSE
THERE'S NOT THAT AFFORDABLE
HOUSING, BECAUSE AGAIN, THERE'S
DIFFERENT IDEAS.
I KNOW THE GOVERNMENT HAS A
FORMULA FOR AFFORDABLE, BUT IT
MORE RELATES TO THE WORKING POOR
RATHER THAN TO THOSE WHO ARE ON
THE STREET.
SO, THEN THEY BECOME A COMMUNITY
UNTO THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY
STICK TOGETHER.
THEY LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER; THEY
LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER.
AND THEN THAT BECOMES THEIR
COMMUNITY.

Nam says YEAH, I'M HAVING EVEN JUST
A... EVERY TIME I HEAR MYSELF
SAYING "THE HOMELESS" OR
"HOMELESS," THE LANGUAGE ALSO
SEEMS PROBLEMATIC.

Doug says SURE.
I THINK IT'S NOT SO
MUCH... THEY'RE NOT HOMELESS;
THEY'RE HOUSE-LESS.
IN A SENSE OF WHEREVER YOU ARE
IS WHERE YOUR HOME IS.
AND IF THEY'RE IN A SHELTER,
THAT'S THEIR HOME.
THE GOVERNMENT HAS ALLOWED THEM
TO USE A SHELTER ADDRESS AS
THEIR ADDRESS.
THE PHONE NUMBER IS AT A
SHELTER.
IF THEY'RE IN A TENT, THAT'S
THEIR HOME.
SO, WHAT WE WANT TO DO IS FIND
THEM A HOUSING, A PLACE WHERE
THEY CAN GO THAT IS THEIR OWN,
THAT THEY'RE IN OUT OF THE
ELEMENTS, THAT THEY HAVE
A PLACE TO BE COMFORTABLE
AND TO BE SAFE.

Nam says LEAH, I WANT TO GET BACK INTO
YOUR BOOK AGAIN.
AND YOU WRITE...

Another quote appears on screen, under the title "A cold world." The quote reads "It was a cold, blustery winter day. As we started walking north on Bayside Street toward Dunlop, my dad noticed Grant sitting on the steps of a business across the road from the Barrie Bayside Mission Centre. When, 45 minutes later, we returned half-frozen to our car, my dad saw that Grant was still sitting in the exact same spot -in minus 15 degree weather, and with bare hands.
Grant agreed to have his picture taken and answer a few questions. The first question my dad asked was, 'Aren't you cold?'
'You get used to it.' Grant told us he was staying at the Centre.
'Do you like it there?'
'They are always kind to me,' Grant said, 'and treat me with respect, which is more than I can say for those who see me on the street.'"
Quoted from Leah Denbok, 'Nowhere to call home, Vol. 1.' 2017.

Nam says LEAH, WHAT WAS IT LIKE, YOUR
FIRST INTERACTIONS, WHEN YOU DID
SEE PEOPLE ON THE STREET?

Leah says SO AT FIRST, I DIDN'T REALLY
WANT TO TAKE PHOTOS OF PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS.

A portrait shows a young woman wearing a hijab.

Leah says BUT MY DAD THOUGHT IT WAS A
GOOD IDEA, SO I WENT WITH HIM,
AND, OF COURSE, IT WAS ALSO
EASIER BECAUSE HE APPROACHES
THE PEOPLE, WHICH HELPS A
LOT BECAUSE I DON'T REALLY LIKE
TALKING TO PEOPLE.

[EVERYONE LAUGHS]

Nam says YOU'RE DOING GREAT THOUGH.

Another portrait shows a man with a goatee and a cap.

Leah says AND...

Nam says 'CAUSE HE RECORDS YOUR... THE
INTERVIEWS, RIGHT?

Leah says YEAH, YEAH.
HE USUALLY HAS A CONVERSATION
WITH THEM WHILE I TAKE THEIR PHOTOGRAPH.

Another portrait shows an older man looking down pensively.

Nam says OK, SO IN THAT FIRST
CONVERSATION, HOW DID IT SHIFT
FOR YOU?

Another portrait shows a young person hugging a dog.

Leah says SO, REALLY AFTER THE FIRST
TIME WE HAD GONE OUT, I REALLY
REALIZED THAT EVERYTHING I HAD
THOUGHT WAS SORT OF A LIE.
AND IT'S THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT
REALLY JUST THINKING WHAT OTHER
PEOPLE TELL YOU, OF ACTUALLY
GOING OUT AND SEEING YOURSELF.
AND LIKE I SAID BEFORE, I CAME
TO REALIZE THAT THEY'RE OFTEN
VERY KIND AND HUMBLE PEOPLE, AND
THAT'S REALLY NOT WHAT I
EXPECTED.
AND ALSO WHAT I DIDN'T REALLY
REALIZE WAS THAT IT COULD
LITERALLY BE ANYBODY.
IT COULD BE ME.

Doug says YEAH.

Leah says IT COULD BE LIKE MY PARENTS, MY
RELATIVES.
IT JUST IS A MATTER OF
CIRCUMSTANCE IN ONE'S LIFE,
AND NOT HAVING PEOPLE AROUND YOU
AND THE COMMUNITY TO HELP YOU
GET OUT OF THAT SITUATION.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT'S TRUE, DOUG,
THAT PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE HOW
EASILY IT COULD HAPPEN TO SOMEBODY?

Doug says NO QUESTION.
WE FIND OURSELVES MORE AND MORE
DEALING WITH WHAT WE TERM THE
"WORKING POOR." ... THOSE WHO ARE JUST AT ONE
PAYCHEQUE AWAY FROM BEING ON THE
STREET.
YOU ONLY HAVE SO MUCH MONEY.
"DO I BUY FOOD FOR THE FAMILY OR
DO I PAY THE HEATING BILL?"
AND SO THEY'RE CAUGHT IN THE
NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT ARE
WORKING TWO JOBS, JUST IN ORDER
TO KEEP THE HOUSEHOLD GOING.
SO YEAH, THERE'S A LOT OF PEOPLE
CLOSER TO THIS.
AND THE AGE GROUP IS CHANGING,
SO THAT IT'S NOT...

Nam says IS IT BECOMING YOUNGER OR OLDER?

Doug says IT'S BECOMING YOUNGER.
AS WE PERCEIVE, THEY LOOK OLD
BECAUSE OF THE... BEING OUT IN THE
WEATHER AND THE ISSUES THEY'VE
BEEN THROUGH.
THEY DON'T PORTRAY THEIR CORRECT
AGE.
BUT THE AGE IS COMING DOWN.

Nam says AND HOW IMPORTANT A PROJECT LIKE
THIS IS IT TO MAYBE CHANGING THE
PERCEPTION OF PEOPLE WHO ARE
LIVING ON THE STREET?

Doug says I THINK THE KEY TO THIS WHOLE
THING IS AWARENESS.
MAKING OTHER PEOPLE AWARE THAT,
AS LEAH HAS SAID, THEY'RE NOT
BAD PEOPLE.
AND ONCE YOU GET TO TALK TO
THEM, ONCE YOU GET TO KNOW THEIR
STORY AND UNDERSTAND WHAT
THEY'VE COME THROUGH, GIVES YOU
A WHOLE DIFFERENT IDEA OF WHAT
THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE LIKE.

Nam says AND CONSIDERING SOME OF THE
PICTURES WERE TAKEN AT YOUR
SHELTER, WHAT HAS THE EXPERIENCE
OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE FEATURED
LIKE?

Doug says NO QUESTION, IT'S A GOOD THING
FOR THEM.
AT FIRST, I'M SURE THEY'RE
HESITANT AND THINKING,
"WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?" AND
"HOW'S THIS GOING TO TURN OUT?"
BUT WHEN THEY SEE THEIR PICTURE,
OR WHEN THEY READ THEIR STORY IN
PRINT AND...
YEAH, IN A SENSE, IT GIVES THEM,
"WOW, THAT'S ME."
YOU KNOW?
AND GIVES THEM A LITTLE SENSE OF
SELF-WORTH.
AND SO THEN THEY'RE ABLE TO
BUILD ON THAT, AND WE'RE ABLE TO
BUILD ON THAT IN THEIR LIFE.

Nam says AND IS THERE ALSO LIKE A SENSE
OF BEING SEEN?
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE BEING
INVISIBLE AND PEOPLE NOT SEEING
THEM.
IS IT... DO YOU THINK THERE'S AN
ASPECT OF "SOMEONE'S NOTICED ME
AND WANTS TO KNOW WHAT MY STORY IS"?

Leah says YEAH, I DEFINITELY THINK THAT'S
THE CASE.
WHEN WE FIRST STARTED
PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS, WE
DIDN'T REALLY KNOW IF THEY WOULD
WANT TO HAVE THEIR PHOTOGRAPH
TAKEN, OR IF IT WOULD EVEN WORK
AT ALL.
BUT TO OUR SURPRISE, ALMOST ALL
THE PEOPLE THAT WE ASK IF THEY
WANT TO HAVE THEIR PHOTO TAKEN
AND TO BE ASKED A COUPLE
QUESTIONS, THEY'RE NOT ONLY OPEN
TO IT, BUT QUITE EXCITED TO DO
THAT.
AND WE WERE QUITE CONFUSED WHY
THAT WAS, AND WE'VE COME...

Nam says WHY THEY WERE EXCITED?

Leah says YEAH.
[CHUCKLES]
AND WE'VE COME TO REALIZE THAT
PROBABLY A LOT OF IT HAS TO DO
WITH... LIKE FOR POSTERITY'S SAKE.
THEY DON'T WANT TO JUST BE
FORGOTTEN ON THE STREETS.
AND THEY WANT TO HAVE THEIR
STORY READ ABOUT.
AND FOR PEOPLE HOPEFULLY TO READ
THEIR STORY AND REALIZE...

Nam says THAT THEY WON'T BE FORGOTTEN.

Leah says YEAH, EXACTLY.

Doug says AND I THINK SOME OF THAT
IS OUR FAULT... THE GENERAL
PUBLIC... IS THAT WE THINK THEY
DON'T... WE DON'T WANT PEOPLE TO
KNOW ABOUT THEM.
WE DON'T WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW
WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THEM.
BUT IT'S THESE INDIVIDUALS THAT
ARE COMING AND SAYING,
"YES, I WANT TO TELL MY STORY
SO THAT OTHERS DON'T FOLLOW OR
FALL INTO THE SAME PITFALLS."
AND SO, LEAH'S BEEN ABLE TO
BRING THEM OUT OF THEIR SHELL
AND ENCOURAGE THEM TO TALK ABOUT
WHAT THEIR LIFE IS REALLY ALL
ABOUT.

Nam says WELL, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF
THOSE STORIES.
YOU... IN YOUR FIRST BOOK, YOU
FEATURE SOMEBODY CALLED TREVOR.
AND HE TALKS ABOUT NOT BEING
ABLE TO SLEEP IN A SHELTER
BECAUSE HE HAS A DOG.

A portrait shows a man hiding his face behind a small white dog.

Nam says FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT ROLE
DO PETS PLAY FOR THE HOMELESS?

The caption changes to "Pet project."

Leah says WELL, I'VE DISCOVERED THAT PETS
PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN SOMEONE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS' LIFE,
BECAUSE OFTEN, THESE PEOPLE ARE
ON THE STREETS BY THEMSELVES.
A PET CAN OFTEN BE LIKE A
COMPANION OR A BEST FRIEND.
AND WE FOUND THAT PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS... OFTEN LOVE THEIR ANIMALS, LIKE
TO THE EXTREME, AND THEY'LL
MAKE HUGE SACRIFICES TO THEM.
LIKE, PEOPLE EXPERIENCING
HOMELESSNESS HAVE TOLD ME LIKE
THEY WOULD GO AND FEED THEIR DOG
BEFORE THEY FED THEMSELVES.

A portrait shows a short-haired man hugging a medium-sized dog.

Doug says YEAH.

Leah says AND ALSO... I DON'T KNOW IF
IT WAS TREVOR SPECIFICALLY, BUT
A MAN EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS
THAT HAD A DOG TOLD ME ONE TIME
THAT SINCE THERE'S ONLY A COUPLE
OF SHELTERS IN TORONTO THAT WILL
ACCEPT PETS... WHICH MAKES IT VERY HARD FOR
SOMEONE TO WALK ACROSS TORONTO
TO GET TO THOSE SPECIFIC
SHELTERS... AND THEY'RE OFTEN OVERBOOKED
BECAUSE THERE ARE ONLY A COUPLE
SPECIFIC SHELTERS
THAT WILL ACCEPT ANIMALS.

A portrait shows a young man hugging a striped cat.

Leah says AND FOR THAT REASON, HE OFTEN
HAS TO STAY ON THE STREETS IN
EXTREME TEMPERATURES.
AND HE EXPLAINED TO US THAT IN
ORDER TO GET THROUGH NIGHTS
WHERE IT'S LIKE NEGATIVE 30
OUTSIDE, HE'LL DOUBLE HIS
SLEEPING BAGS UP, AND THEN HIS
LITTLE DOG WILL CLIMB DOWN TO
HIS FEET AND SLEEP IN THE
SLEEPING BAG WITH HIM.
AND IT'S ACTUALLY REALLY SAD, I
THINK, 'CAUSE HE'S NOT GOING TO
ABANDON HIS BEST FRIEND, OF
COURSE.
AND IT LEAVES HIM WITH NO OTHER
OPTION.
AND ALSO, A KEY FACTOR THAT I'VE
FOUND AS WELL, WHICH I FIND VERY
TOUCHING, IS OFTEN PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS, THEIR
PETS ARE OFTEN HOMELESS AS WELL,
AND THEY ADOPT THEM FOR THAT
REASON, 'CAUSE THEY KNOW WHAT
IT'S LIKE TO BE... TO BE THROWN
OUT ON THE STREETS ALONE AND TO
NOT HAVE ANYBODY ELSE,
SO THEY'LL TAKE CARE
OF EACH OTHER.

Nam says SO WHY DON'T MORE SHELTERS ALLOW
PEOPLE WHO ARE ON THE STREET TO
BRING IN THEIR ANIMALS?

Doug says IT'S AN AWKWARD QUESTION.
SORRY, NOT THE QUESTION, THE
ANSWER... IN THE SENSE OF IF IT'S A
SERVICE DOG OR A SERVICE ANIMAL,
NO QUESTION, WE CAN ALLOW THEM IN.
THE FACT THAT IT'S DORMITORY
STYLE, IT'S COMMUNAL LIVING,
ONE ANIMAL PERHAPS MAY WORK.
WHAT IF WE HAVE TWO OR THREE
DOGS THAT DON'T GET ALONG?
HOW DO WE HANDLE THAT?
NOW, NOT SURE ABOUT TORONTO.
I KNOW IN BARRIE, IT HASN'T BEEN
TOO MUCH OF AN ISSUE.
IN FACT, I DON'T RECALL ANYBODY
THAT'S COME THAT WE'VE TURNED
AWAY.
WHAT WE HAVE DONE IS THROUGH THE
SPCA, TRIED TO ARRANGE,
"CAN THEY LOOK AFTER THE DOG
WHILE YOU STAY WITH US?
THAT WAY WE CAN DEAL WITH YOUR
PROBLEMS AND THEN GET YOU
REUNITED AGAIN."
AND THAT'S THE ROUTE THAT WE
WOULD TAKE.
BUT AS FAR AS HAVING THEM WITHIN
THE SHELTER, WE'RE STILL DEALING
WITH THAT.
NO QUESTION, SOMETHING WE HAVE
TO LOOK AT A LITTLE DEEPER, A
LITTLE MORE SERIOUS, BECAUSE OF
THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT HAVE
PETS, BECAUSE IT'S THEIR FAMILY.

Nam says RIGHT, AND YOU'RE PUT IN A
POSITION WHERE YOU HAVE TO DECIDE.

Doug says EXACTLY.

Nam says LEAH, MOST OF THE PHOTOS IN YOUR
BOOKS ARE SHOT AGAINST BLACK AND
WHITE, AND THERE ARE VERY FEW
SHOTS THAT ARE STREET SCENES.
HOW DO THE BEGGAR AND THE BAG
LADY COMPLEMENT THE OTHER PHOTOS
IN YOUR FIRST BOOK?

A picture shows a man sitting on a stone step, with his head cradled in his folded arms, looking down.
Another picture shows a woman bent over as she pushes a walking aid cart loaded with bags, in a busy downtown intersection.

The caption changes to "Defining a style."

Leah says SO, I THINK THEY
COMPLEMENT THEM IN TERMS OF
THESE ARE BOTH IMAGES OF PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS IN
BLACK AND WHITE, LIKE THE OTHER
PHOTOGRAPHS.
THE ONLY DIFFERENCE REALLY IS
THAT THESE ARE CANDID IMAGES,
AS OPPOSED TO ME... US SPEAKING
WITH THE INDIVIDUAL AND SETTING
A BACKDROP AND SUCH.
FOR EXAMPLE, THE BAG LADY, WE
HAD APPROACHED HER AND ASKED IF
I COULD TAKE HER PHOTOGRAPH, AND
I THINK SHE WOULD HAVE... SHE MUST
HAVE HAD SOME SORT OF MENTAL
HEALTH PROBLEMS BECAUSE SHE JUST
STARTED SCREAMING AT US, SO WE
JUST SORT OF BACKED OFF.
AND MY DAD HAD SAID SINCE HER
FACE WOULDN'T BE IN THE
PHOTOGRAPH, IT WOULD STILL
PROBABLY MAKE A GOOD PHOTOGRAPH.
SO, WE STILL TOOK HER PHOTO.
AND THEN WITH THE BEGGAR AS
WELL, HE WAS SLEEPING, AND WE
DIDN'T WANT TO WAKE HIM UP.
AND WE DIDN'T WANT TO BOTHER
HIM BY PUTTING A BACKDROP
BEHIND HIM WHILE HE'S SLEEPING,
SO I JUST TOOK HIS PHOTOGRAPH
AS WELL.
AND I THINK IT'S GOOD
THOUGH BECAUSE IT REALLY SHOWS
THEM SORT OF IN THEIR
ENVIRONMENT, AND THAT'S WHY WE
CHOSE TO INCLUDE THOSE IMAGES AS
WELL.

Nam says AND WHY BLACK AND WHITE AND HIGH
CONTRAST?

In a picture, a light haired young woman smiles as she smokes, and a bearded man sitting by her side closes his eyes.

Leah says WELL, I PREFER TO SHOOT IN BLACK
AND WHITE BECAUSE I FIND COLOUR
CAN OFTEN BE DISTRACTING TO... TO
THE SUBJECT AND WHAT YOU'RE
LOOKING AT.
AND I JUST... I JUST PREFER BLACK
AND WHITE, IN ALL ASPECTS OF
PHOTOGRAPHY THAT I DO.
I JUST FIND IT MORE...

Nam says POWERFUL?

Leah says MORE POWERFUL, YEAH.

a portrait shows half an elderly man's face.

Nam says I DON'T WANT TO PUT WORDS
IN YOUR MOUTH.

Leah says NO, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I
MEANT.
YEAH, MORE POWERFUL FOR SURE.

Nam says ALONGSIDE THE PHOTO OF BOB
IN YOUR FIRST BOOK, YOU WRITE
THAT HE WAS ONE OF YOUR FIRST
PORTRAITS.
YOU SAY YOU DON'T REMEMBER MUCH
ABOUT HIM EXCEPT HE HAD A SMILE
THAT LIT UP HIS WHOLE FACE.
WHY DIDN'T YOU INCLUDE THE SMILE
IN THE BOOK?

Another portrait shows a bearded man with brilliant eyes and deep wrinkles on his face, pointing at his cheekbone with a hand on which he wears a ring.

Leah says SO WHEN I'M PHOTOGRAPHING
SOMEONE EXPERIENCING
HOMELESSNESS, THE PHOTOSHOOT
USUALLY TAKES ABOUT FIVE, TEN
MINUTES, AND DURING THAT TIME
AND SPEAKING WITH THE
INDIVIDUAL, I USUALLY TRY AND
GET A PHOTOGRAPH THAT SORT OF
ENCAPSULATES THEIR PERSONALITY,
THROUGH THE LITTLE I CAN LEARN
FROM THEM IN THAT SHORT AMOUNT
OF TIME.
AND WITH THIS PHOTOGRAPH IN
PARTICULAR, I CAN'T REMEMBER
EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING AS
IT WAS ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO NOW,
BUT I'M SURE IN THIS CASE,
HOWEVER HIS SMILE DID STRIKE US
AND IS SOMETHING THAT WE
REMEMBERED, IT POSSIBLY WASN'T
WHAT WAS SHOWING HIS
PERSONALITY.
WE PROBABLY DECIDED THAT THE
IMAGE WHERE HE WASN'T SMILING
JUST REALLY SHOWED WHO HE WAS
MORE SO.
FOR EXAMPLE, HE COULD HAVE ONLY
SMILED THAT ONE TIME AND THAT'S
WHAT STRUCK US.
SO, WE'RE JUST TRYING TO SORT OF
PORTRAY THE PERSON FROM WHAT WE
CAN LEARN FROM THEM.

Nam says BECAUSE YOU ASK THE SUBJECTS NOT
TO SMILE, BECAUSE I THINK THE
FIRST THING PEOPLE WANT TO DO
WHEN YOU SAY, "I WANT TO TAKE
YOUR PICTURE."

LEAH AND DOUG say YEAH...

Nam says IS THEY WANT TO SMILE, RIGHT?

Leah says YEAH, YEAH.
I DO SPECIFICALLY ASK THEM NOT
TO SMILE.
JUST 'CAUSE OFTEN WHEN PEOPLE
SMILE, IT CAN BE A VERY FAKE THING.
AND THEN USUALLY AFTER I ALREADY
ASK THEM THAT QUESTION, IF THEY
CONTINUE TO SMILE AND THEY JUST
CAN'T STOP, THEN YOU REALLY
KNOW, LIKE, THAT'S JUST THEIR
PERSONALITY, AND THAT'S WHAT I
WILL CAPTURE.
FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN I WAS IN
AUSTRALIA JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO,
I DID TAKE A PHOTO OF A WOMAN
WHO WAS SMILING, BUT... SO I'M NOT
REALLY AGAINST THAT OR
ANYTHING... BUT IT DEFINITELY JUST SHOWED
WHO SHE WAS.
AND IT WENT REALLY WELL WITH THE
STORY, SO THAT'S WHY WE HAD
CHOSE.

Nam says AND, DOUG, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF
THE BLACK AND WHITE?
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT BRINGS TO
LEAH'S IMAGES?

Doug says I THINK IT'S PERFECT AS FAR AS
DEPICTING THE LIFESTYLE OF AN
INDIVIDUAL.
IT SHOWS EVERY MARK.
IT HIGHLIGHTS EVERY DETAIL OF
WHAT THEY'VE BEEN THROUGH.
I THINK AS LEAH SAID, THE COLOUR
WOULD KIND OF SOFTEN SOME OF
THAT.
BUT THE BLACK AND WHITE MAKES
THOSE LINES, THOSE WORRY LINES,
THOSE LEATHERY-TYPE FACES FROM
THE ELEMENTS, I THINK IT BRINGS
OUT THE LIFESTYLE AND THE
REALITY OF WHAT THAT PERSON'S
BEEN THROUGH.

Nam says AND YOU PAY EVERY SUBJECT 10 dollars.
HOW DID YOU COME TO 10 dollars?

The caption changes to "Leah Denbok, @humanizing_the_homeless."

Leah says AT THE BEGINNING, WE HAD SORT OF
JUST DECIDED LIKE 10 dollars WOULD BE A
GOOD AMOUNT TO PAY AN INDIVIDUAL
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS.
BECAUSE WE DON'T WANT TO GIVE
THEM NOTHING, BECAUSE THEY ARE
MODELLING FOR US, AND THEY'RE
GIVING US THEIR TIME.
AND ALSO, THEY'RE OFTEN
PANHANDLING ON THE STREETS, SO
WE DON'T WANT TO JUST GIVE THEM
A BIT OF CHANGE, SO WE THOUGHT
10 dollars WOULD BE A GOOD AMOUNT.
AND ALSO, SINCE MY DAD AND I
HAVE CHOSE TO DONATE THE
PROFITS... 100 percent OF THE PROFITS
FROM ALL OF THE BOOKS TO... BACK
TO HOMELESS SHELTERS, WE'RE
REALLY NOT MAKING ANY MONEY
BACK.
SO, SINCE ALL THE MONEY THAT WE
PAY EACH INDIVIDUAL COMES RIGHT
OUT OF OUR POCKETS, IT WAS SORT
OF SOMETHING THAT WE COULD
AFFORD, SINCE I HAVE
PHOTOGRAPHED A COUPLE HUNDRED
PEOPLE NOW.
SO, THAT'S A COUPLE THOUSAND
DOLLARS.

[LEAH AND DOUG LAUGH]

The caption changes to "Connect with us: TVO.org. Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram."

Nam says WELL, IN YOUR FIRST BOOK, YOU
SAY THAT YOU HAD ONE PERSON YOU
OFFERED THE 10 dollars TO, AND THEY
DECLINED, AND THEY WANTED 20 dollars
INSTEAD.

Leah says YEAH.

Nam says WERE YOU EXPECTING THAT
RESPONSE?

Leah says WE HADN'T BEEN EXPECTING THAT
RESPONSE.
THOUGH, WE SORT OF DO NOW,
BECAUSE WE HAVE GOTTEN IT A
COUPLE TIMES.
BUT WE JUST HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO
THEM, LIKE, THAT'S REALLY ALL WE
CAN AFFORD.
LIKE I SAID BEFORE, WE PAY EACH
INDIVIDUAL, AND I PHOTOGRAPH
HUNDREDS OF INDIVIDUALS, SO
UNTIL I ACTUALLY START MAKING
MONEY, THAT'S REALLY ALL WE CAN DO.

[DOUG CHUCKLES]

Nam says AND, DOUG, WHAT DOES 10 dollars MEAN TO
SOMEBODY WHO'S LIVING ON THE STREET?

Doug says IT'S A GOLDMINE, IN A SENSE...

Nam says BECAUSE TO US, IT SOUNDS
LIKE A COFFEE.

Doug says EXACTLY.
AND FOR THEM, IT IS A COFFEE,
AND MAYBE SEVERAL COFFEES.
BUT THAT'S THEIR COFFEE.
AND FOR THEM, THAT'S... IN A
SENSE, IT'S FREE MONEY.
THEY DO RECEIVE SOME TYPE OF
ASSISTANCE OR GOVERNMENT
ASSISTANCE OR THEY'RE ON ODSP OR
SOMETHING TO THAT EFFECT,
BUT ALL OF THAT'S GOBBLED
UP REAL QUICK, SO HERE'S
AN OPPORTUNITY THAT... A BONUS,
THEY'VE GOT SOMETHING... IT'S
A TREAT FOR THEM.
AND SO, THEY, YEAH, RELISH THAT
IDEA.

Nam says AND HOW MUCH EDITING DO YOU DO
WITH YOUR PHOTOS, LEAH?

The caption changes to "Technique."

Leah says I TRY TO DO A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF
EDITING... BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO CHANGE
THESE PEOPLE.
OUR MAIN GOAL WAS TO PORTRAY WHO
THEY ARE, AND THAT'S WHY WE TRY
NOT TO EDIT THE IMAGES THAT
MUCH.
I USUALLY JUST MAKE THE IMAGES
BLACK AND WHITE AND SORT OF
BOOST THE CONTRAST A LITTLE BIT.

Nam says DO YOU ALWAYS FOCUS, OR DO
YOU SOMETIMES HAVE BLURRY SHOTS?

Leah says NO, I ALWAYS KEEP THEM IN FOCUS.
YEAH, IT'S A BIG THING.
AND I USUALLY JUST BRING OUT THE
EYES A LITTLE BIT, BUT THAT'S
ABOUT ALL.

Nam says YOU FOCUS ON THE EYES.

Leah says YEAH.

Nam says THE WINDOWS TO THE SOUL, RIGHT?
DOUG, DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE OF
LEAH'S PHOTOS?

Doug says GRANT.
GRANT IS THE ONE... THE GENTLEMAN
WHO SITS ACROSS THE ROAD FROM
THE SHELTER.
AND AGAIN, BECAUSE OF THE EYES.
IT TELLS HIS STORY.
YOU CAN ALMOST SEE HIS SOUL
THROUGH HIS EYES.
YET, AT THE SAME TIME, HE'S
APPEARING INTO OUR SOUL.

Grant's portrait appears on screen. He's elderly, with a scruffy full beard, wearing a beanie, and staring directly at the viewer.

Nam says DO YOU KNOW HIS STORY?
WHAT'S HIS STORY?

Doug says THERE ARE THOSE THAT HAVE
CERTAIN MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES OR
IDEAS, DON'T WANT TO BE IN A
SHELTER, DON'T WANT TO BE IN A
COMMUNAL TYPE SETTING, AND SO I
THINK GRANT'S ON THE EDGE OF THAT.
HE WILL ONLY COME A CERTAIN
CLOSENESS... YOU'RE ONLY ALLOWED
TO GET SO CLOSE TO HIM, AND THEN
HE BACKS AWAY.
BUT THROUGH HIS EYES, YOU CAN
SEE THAT, YEAH, THERE'S A
KINDNESS THERE.
THERE'S SOMETHING BEHIND THAT,
IF WE CAN JUST REACH THAT.
OR OPEN THAT DOOR FOR HIM THAT'S
GOING TO ALLOW HIM TO COME OUT
AND BE HIMSELF.

Nam says AND, LEAH, A FEW MONTHS AGO, YOU
HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVEL TO
AUSTRALIA TO TAKE PART IN THE
WOMEN OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL AS A
RESULT OF YOUR BOOKS.
HOW DIFFERENT IS THE HOMELESS
SITUATION THERE THAN IT IS HERE?

The caption changes to "Contrast."

Leah says I DID NOTICE A LOT OF SIMILARITIES.
BUT THERE WERE DEFINITELY A FEW
DIFFERENCES AS WELL.
BECAUSE WHERE WE WERE LOCATED IN
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA, IT'S VERY
MILD TEMPERATURES ALL YEAR
ROUND, SO PRETTY MUCH OUR
SUMMER, AND THEN JUST A BIT
HOTTER THAN THAT.
SO, FOR PEOPLE EXPERIENCING
HOMELESSNESS, IT'S A LOT EASIER
TO SLEEP ON THE STREETS BECAUSE
IT DOESN'T GET TO THOSE EXTREME
COLD TEMPERATURES, AND SNOW AND
STUFF LIKE THAT THERE.
SO FOR THAT REASON, IT'S A LOT
MORE COMFORTABLE TO LIVE ON THE
STREETS.
AND ALSO, WHERE WE WERE IN
BRISBANE, AS WELL, THE
GOVERNMENT GIVES MONEY TO ALL
INDIVIDUALS THAT ARE AUSTRALIAN
CITIZENS WHO DO NOT HAVE A JOB.
SO FOR THIS REASON, WE DID COME
INTO ABOUT... WE DID TALK TO ABOUT
TWO PEOPLE THAT SAID THEY LOVE
BEING HOMELESS BECAUSE...

Nam says REALLY?

Leah says THEY CAN JUST STAY OUT IN THE
NICE WEATHER, AND THEY GET MONEY
FROM THE GOVERNMENT.
AND REALLY, THEIR BIGGEST WORRY
IS WHAT THEY'RE GOING TO EAT FOR
BREAKFAST THE NEXT DAY, BUT...

Nam says BECAUSE I THINK A LOT OF
PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT.

Leah says YEAH, AND WE WERE TOO.
BECAUSE IT'S VERY... THE... LIKE,
THE WHOLE TIME I'VE BEEN TAKING
PHOTOGRAPHS OF PEOPLE
EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS IN
NORTH AMERICA, WE'VE ONLY COME
ACROSS TWO OUT OF A COUPLE
HUNDRED... THAT HAVE ACTUALLY CHOSE TO
BE ON THE STREETS.
AND I DEFINITELY THINK THAT'S
THE DIFFERENCE, JUST BECAUSE OF
THE WEATHER THERE, BECAUSE I
DON'T KNOW WHO WOULD EVER CHOOSE
TO GO OUT IN NEGATIVE 40 AND GO
SLEEP OUTSIDE.
LIKE, I DON'T EVEN WANT TO GO
OUTSIDE IN NEGATIVE 40 AT ALL.
SO, I DEFINITELY THINK THOSE
WERE TWO BIG DIFFERENCES.
HOWEVER, APART FROM THOSE TWO,
THERE... EVERYBODY ELSE SAID THEY
DID NOT CHOOSE TO BE ON THE
STREETS, AND THEY SAID,
"WHO WOULD CHOOSE TO BE ON THE
STREETS?"
SO, IT'S DEFINITELY NOT...

Nam says IT'S NOT A CHOICE, YEAH.

Leah says YEAH, BUT IT WAS SORT OF
INTERESTING, THAT ONE GUY WHO
DID BRING THAT UP... AND IT'S MORE COMFORTABLE, I
GUESS, THAN IT IS HERE.

Nam says DOUG, IN YOUR FORWARD TO LEAH'S
FIRST BOOK, YOU WROTE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Inspiring." The quote reads "May this book inspire you to fight to alleviate the pain and suffering of those wanting to belong, of having somewhere to call home, and people to call friends."
Quoted from Major Doug Lewis, "Nowhere to call home, Vol. 1. 2017.

Nam says HAS LEAH'S WORK SUCCEEDED IN
ACHIEVING THAT GOAL?

Doug says IT CERTAINLY HAS IN OUR AREA.
IN THE BARRIE... THE COUNTY OF
SIMCOE, WITH THE PUBLICATION OF
THE BOOK AND THE ADVERTISING,
AND LEAH BEING OUT BEING ABLE TO
SHARE THE GOOD NEWS.
AGAIN, AWARENESS IS THE KEY... AND SHE'S DOING A GREAT JOB OF
ALLOWING PEOPLE TO BECOME AWARE
ABOUT THESE INDIVIDUALS, RATHER
THAN JUST TRYING TO IGNORE THEM
AND WALKING BY THEM.
BUT NOW BEING ABLE TO KNOW AND
SAY, "OK, I RECOGNIZE THAT
PERSON."
NOT FROM A PICTURE, BUT
RECOGNIZE THE NEED OF THAT
PERSON.
AND SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
AND AS A RESULT OF THAT, PEOPLE
ARE RESPONDING.
PEOPLE ARE... WHETHER IT'S A
DONATION OR WHETHER IT'S A
HANDOUT OR A HAND-UP OR WHETHER
IT'S AN ARM AROUND, PEOPLE ARE
BECOMING INVOLVED IN DOING
SOMETHING FOR THIS SEGMENT OF
THE POPULATION, SO IT'S BEEN A
GREAT... A GREAT ASSET TO THAT.

The caption changes to "Producer: Gregg Thurlbeck, @GreggThurlbeck."

Nam says WELL, DOUG, THANK YOU SO MUCH
FOR ALL THE WORK THAT YOU DO IN BARRIE.

Doug says THANK YOU.

Nam says YOU'VE DEVOTED YOUR LIFE TO
HELPING PEOPLE THAT WE IGNORE.
SO THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Doug says THANK YOU.

Nam says AND, LEAH, CONSIDERING HOW
YOUNG YOU ARE, I CAN ONLY
IMAGINE WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO
IN THE NEXT YEAR, OR EVEN TWO
YEARS.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR WORK.

Leah says THANK YOU.

[CHUCKLES]

Nam says AND FOR BEING HERE.

Watch: Portraits of Homelessness in Black and White