OFF THE GRID

About the Show

“I love sunsets because it means I have had another day alive.”

Watch a video about the collection

The OFF THE GRID photography project began at the Lynn Emergency Adult Shelter in January 2016. People staying in a night shelter were offered, by a group of volunteers, the chance to learn the art of photography using professional cameras. The goals of the project were threefold:

  1. to provide companionship and mentoring, and a potentially usable skill, over the course of six months while they endured an unimaginably hard time in their lives.
  2. to give everyone living in the shelter who wished to be included in the project a chance to tell their story, and to be heard by the local community.
  3. to celebrate the project participants, people who are usually invisible in society, as guest artists at a public art-gallery opening event. The event, and subsequent sales of their photographs, raised money for the development of day services at the shelter. 

The requirements for artists to participate in OFF THE GRID were demanding and meeting them was a feat for those living in a shelter and surviving the daily challenges of homelessness. Participation in the program meant showing up for meetings, responding to messages, securing appropriate photo authorizations and being present for review and discussion about photography as a tool for self-expression. Participants were asked to take responsibility for their camera, batteries and memory cards; all of which needed to be cared for on a daily basis in a setting where each morning they are required to pack up all of their belongings and be out of the shelter by 7:30 am.  

What resulted from the 6-month project was a collection of over 6000 images with the participants celebrated as guest artists at a public art-gallery opening event. Important to the OFF THE GRID project co-creators was to capture and reflect the resilience and humanity of the participants. While the hardships of homelessness remain implicit in the images, there are no images that are exploitative, shocking or de-basing of subjects or artists. Furthermore, to maintain the privacy and dignity of participants, all work is untitled and the artists anonymous.

Paired with the images, volunteers collected quotations from the artists during meetings and discussions about their art. These quotes, sometimes sad while other times sweet, display resilience and humanity, giving a glimpse into the mindset, experiences, and struggles of the artists.

Subsequently, the photographs and quotes that were collected by the volunteers have been exhibited in various locations around Massachusetts, including the Boston State House, several churches and a synagogue, a library, a school and a coffee shop.

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This collection is the result of a generous donation from Dr. William U. and Jensie Shipley.

Curators

Susan Ogan, MS,MSW

Professionally trained in Boston Massachusetts, Susan is now a photographer with a background in communication disorders and social work with a specialty in systems based outreach child/family evaluation and treatment of trauma and loss. Working in collaboration with medical and educational teams in a range of settings has contributed to her current passion and “lens” focused on verbal and visual story telling. Beauty, hope, suffering, personal truth. Susan believes that giving voice to aspects of our shared humanity is important for building bridges of change. As co-creator of OFF THE GRID photography project these ideals motivated Susan to spend 6 months on a project teaching people experiencing homelessness to tell their stories using photography.

Alison Rosalie Brookes, MD

Alison is an internal medicine physician whose many passionate interests in the creative arts are inseparable from the delight she takes in her patients’ stories. She was raised in London, England (where she trained as a physician before emigrating to the USA in her 20’s), in a musical family with a special love of Jamaica, where the family lived in 1971, and which had a magical effect on all of them. She is always searching for ways to bring to her medical practice the beauty, spontaneity and enthusiasm for life that she has found in her adventures in the world outside it. She has worked in rural West Africa doing pediatrics and obstetrics, in an English country village as a family physician doing house calls, as a primary care physician in an affluent American suburb, and now works in the Medical Walk-In Unit at MGH, Boston: serving people from all over the world…and from just down the street. She had been studying Spanish at a tiny school in the mountains of Peru each year until the pandemic curtailed travel. For about 20 years she volunteered as a cook, entertainer, fundraiser and Board member at a homeless shelter in Lynn, MA. During those years, the friendships she made led to co-creation of the OFF THE GRID photography project. The resulting art collection gives a voice to people living the most difficult lives imaginable, their images and quotations revealing the unquenchable spirit that resides in every soul.

Karen Bowden

Karen found her passion for photography on a high school trip to France, and as an adult has traveled the globe with her camera. While photographs was originally a hobby, she made photography her full time job in 2017 when she moved from Boston to Amelia Island. Prior to her move she helped co-create OFF THE GRID. She is currently the gallery director and an exhibiting member of the Plantation Artists Guild and Gallery. Her other projects include co-creating a community-wide storytelling project called 2020 A Look Back where 100 photos and stories were selected from hundreds of submissions, to record our experiences in the year 2020. Now a traveling exhibit, video and magazine, its story is permanently recorded. Additionally, she coordinates and leads a group of island residents on monthly photography excursions, sharing her favorite places to capture local landscape and wildlife.

Joanne Paul

Joanne was a participant in the OFF THE GRID project. Following a divorce from her husband, Joanne found herself unable to pay rent by herself. Initially living with various family members and friends, however due to restrictions on occupancy in low income housing she was unable to stay long, and by 2014 she found herself saying in emergency shelters. She originally joined the OFF THE GRID project because because it gave her something to do between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., when clients were required to leave the shelter. Today, Joanne works as an advocate for individuals experiencing homelessness.