The art of being homeless

Street photography
By IAN SANDS  |  August 27, 2008


Jake Anderson was a high-school sophomore from Lexington, walking down a Boston street, when a man rattling change in a cup asked for help. Anderson says he “got all xenophobic” and scurried away, but that he had had a realization soon after. “I was like, ‘Who the fuck am I to do that and not even look someone in the eye?’ I was disgusted with myself.”

This experience would be the impetus for Anderson’s long-standing interest in the homeless — most recently as a college kid on hiatus pursuing a self-assigned project called “homeless Humans,” which he has since turned into a book and an art exhibit at Out of the Blue gallery in Cambridge. Anderson, a gifted photographer, traveled the country between the summer of 2007 and early ’08 documenting street people and collecting their work — poems, drawings, anything really — in a notebook.

Judging by the collected materials accompanying Anderson’s photos in his self-published book, also called homeless Humans, some of his subjects just scribbled something on the page in exchange for the free meal Anderson offered. But a fair number seem to have taken the idea quite seriously. In Denver, Colorado, a Native American man pictured holding his panhandling sign composed a pretty decent poem for the occasion — “Been a Long day flying the sign/night time comes/ . . . Drink me a beer/Got my knife beside me./Got nothing to fear/feels good to be. in my camp./Cuz I’m a Cherry Creek Tramp.”

At a homeless encampment in Athens, Georgia, a woman photographed in front of the remains of the tent and other possessions her abusive ex-boyfriend recently set on fire, wrote in the notebook, “I am a strong woman. I am destroyed.”

Anderson, who plans to return to Colorado College this fall, says he has been donating the money he’s made from the “homeless Humans” project to a “mix” of recipients. This past Friday, at the opening of his current show at the Out of the Blue Gallery, Anderson sold the Georgia work and donated the profits to the Spare Change News.

“I also sold 10 books or so that night. I took the profits from that and gave it all to one dude on the street. I had a lot of fun with it too. I gave him $20 bucks. And I was like, ‘Oh wait, wait, wait.’ You could see the happiness escalating.”

“homeless Humans” runs through September 4 at Out of the Blue Gallery, 106 Prospect Street, in Cambridge, 617.354.5287. Books are for sale at

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