"when you spend the day walking the streets, you see so much more than when you are driving by"

 Tread lightly. That might be one’s first thought if you should happen upon a row of motorcycles lined up ominously outside of a tattoo shop whose mascot just happens to be a menacing skull. But I like to focus on the possible stories taking place inside Drastic Tattoo & Body Piercing. Everyone needs a gathering spot. I like to imagine lively conversation happening inside, akin to a barbershop atmosphere. In one corner raucous laughter bellows as one of the guys is getting roasted mercilessly for the style of vest he chose that day while on the other end of the shop we have quiet concentration as a tattoo artist meticulously puts the finishing touches on his latest masterpiece. Most of the bikers I’ve ever known are awesome people and live in stark contrast to the stigma from movies and TV. However that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get too close to that row of choppers. One slight nudge can topple the whole line and now you’re running away from a bunch of bearded guys rocking cowhide and Knucklehead Engine tattoos who would much rather be spending a leisurely afternoon quoting “Easy Rider” and feeding the neighborhood husky who trots by everyday. 

OFF THE GRID Collection, 2016. Digital Photograph. ©OFF THE GRID. All rights reserved.

OFF THE GRID photography

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

One cold and snowy New England winter, adults living in an emergency homeless shelter were offered a camera, weekly mentoring and basic photography skills; they were encouraged to “go out and take photographs that tell your story’' with the promise that their images would find an audience during exhibition. The goal of this project was to offer a voice to people who often feel excluded and who are frequently misunderstood. The name OFF THE GRID speaks to the experience of being outside and looking in. Becoming homeless is not part of a person’s life plan. It is often the result of spiraling circumstances: illness, loss of job, death of a family member, inadequate health insurance, addiction, divorce, inadequate housing.

During this 6 month photography project that ended with the coming of summer sunshine, the focus of attention of participants went beyond feelings of frustration and powerlessness. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, over time and with developing trust, the images and the photographers' words began to reflect a deeper sense of hope and beauty that we believe is the full expression of human resilience when suffering is given the opportunity for self expression. There are many reasons why we should care about people who are faced with this devastating experience. Even if you don't have a family member or friend living in this situation, then it is simply important to care about people because we are all connected in some way.

Enjoy the exhibit and next time you pass by someone who is homeless, say hello and remember that there is a person of potential and courage beyond the label of “homeless.”

Alison Brookes MD, Susan Ogan MS MSW, Joanne G. Paul, photographer

Other work from OFF THE GRID