Photographer Alex Fradkin Empowers Homeless Teens To Decide How They Are Seen, Challenging Assumptions About Homelessness — PHOTO

When it comes to fighting homelessness, it’s not only a matter of finding beds for people without housing. It’s also about perception – specifically, about changing the way that people think about the homeless, so that people stop simply looking past homeless individuals as they walk by them on the street, and instead regard them as fully valid, complex human beings. "See Me: Picturing New York’s Homeless Youth", a new project from the Reciprocity Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping homeless youth in New York City, seeks to change the narrative typically attached to homeless youth through the power of photography.

Taz Tagore, co-founder of the foundation, told Buzzfeed News that “So many LGBT homeless youth don’t feel like they’re in control of how they’re portrayed,” and that, in typical portrayals of homeless youth, the subjects “feel demeaned and small. They feel hopeless. There are lots of victim portraits out there lacking strength.” The Reciprocity Foundation launched See Me in partnership with photographer Alex Fradkin to give homeless teens in New York the opportunity to shape their own images and decide how they wanted to be presented. Fradkin worked collaboratively with his subjects over a period of months in order to portray them in ways that felt authentic to them. The resulting images portray the teenagers as the multi-faceted people they are, rather than stereotypes. Tagore told Buzzfeed News that the aim of the project was to show something other than the scenes of neglect and abuse that tend to dominate portraits of the homeless, saying,

Those things are true, but the portraits give you the chance to connect with [the youth] on many different levels. […] They don’t feel victimized — they feel proud.

The "See Me" photographs will launch in May with an exhibition in New York City and a book, to celebrate the Reciprocity Foundation’s tenth anniversary. The foundation’s work is of particularly importance to LGBT teens, who are disproportionately represented among homeless youth; a 2012 study from the Williams Institute showed that the percentage of LGBT-identified teens among homeless youth is as high as 40 percent. Tagore said to Buzzfeed News,

LGBT youth have been so marginalized. […] We’ve seen horrific responses from so many families when their children come out — we can still hardly believe the way parents are treating their very own children.

The See Me project allows these teens, so often treated as invisible or portrayed in ways outside their control, to declare to the world who they are and how they want to be seen.

Find out more about the Reciprocity Foundation and See Me on the foundation’s website.

Images: Courtesy of Alex Fradkin(11)