Every photographer has a secret. A secret that most of them will never tell you, whether it’s their unique lighting or angle, an editing process, or the way they conduct their shoots. But one technique—one photography secret—is that a good photographer has to separate herself from the emotion of the event in order to truly capture it. The photographer is a bystander: in the midst of the action, but not a participant. It requires intense focus; calculated precision.
But the Homestretch graduation ceremony was different. I couldn’t remain emotionally detached.
As Visual Storyteller at Ecosystems, I am constantly looking for creative ways to tell the next story, whether it’s a customer’s recent success or an event at Homestretch as part of our partnership. I attended a recent graduation for Homestretch to capture the stories of the graduates who had made their value clear by gaining the skills they needed to leave homelessness and become self-sufficient. After the graduates walked across the stage, I took a photo of each one with their diploma. But before they did that, they shared their stories. They shared stories of lives that involved hopeless nights on unfamiliar streets, escaping abuse and trying to learn how to use the bus system in a language they didn’t understand. Stories of sleeping in hidden alleys and friends’ basements and noisy shelters.
They shared stories of lives that involved hopeless nights on unfamiliar streets,escaping abuse and trying to learn how to use the bus system in a language they didn’t understand.
One woman came to Homestretch with her son. She didn’t know how to hug him or tell him stories. She saw other families in the Homestretch program accomplishing things like buying homes, taking classes, and paying off debt. She never dreamed that she would do those things too. Two years later, she stood on that stage and told everyone that now, she, too, has a home, a credit score, debt-free bank account, job, and classes to learn how to connect with her child.
Another woman stood on the stage sharing how she came to the U.S. for a job that was promised to her. The job offer was unexpectedly revoked, her husband became abusive, and she decided to leave him, determined to make a change. During a difficult custody battle for her children, she was diagnosed with cancer. Homestretch provided the help and support she needed while going to chemotherapy, court hearings, and classes.
I referred to these women’s experiences as stories, but they aren’t stories—they’re lives. They weren’t designed to be a PR stint or the next Netflix drama. Homestretch plans to give each of the graduates the pictures I took. It’s just a photograph, but it captures incredible value and the great distance they traversed to get there. I wasn’t able to be emotionally detached—the transformed lives of these men and women compelled me to participate, even if it was just through a small lens.
Homestretch should be proud of the incredible, real-life value it is creating for so many people. It’s the kind of value that I’m honored to have witnessed. Homestretch, thank you for your work in the Washington, D.C. area. With your help, people are seizing the opportunity to gain the skills they need to be self-sufficient, and are making their value clear—in the clearest sense of the term.