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Exhibit tells the stories of the homeless

Nish has been living on the streets since he was 13 years old. Edward lives in a rooming house in the Donovan. Christine once let a pregnant girl stay in her home until she had the baby. All three are Samaritan Centre clients.
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The aboutface.2 exhibit at Cambrian College's Open Studio tells the story of the disadvantaged, homeless and poor of our community. Supplied photo.
Nish has been living on the streets since he was 13 years old. Edward lives in a rooming house in the Donovan. Christine once let a pregnant girl stay in her home until she had the baby.

All three are Samaritan Centre clients. They're among the city's disadvantaged, homeless and poor, a community whose stories are rarely told.

For the second year in a row, though, Cambrian College's graphic design program has set out to change that with their aboutface.2 exhibit.

Students and professors in the program photographed Samaritan Centre clients, and asked them to tell their stories.

These photographs are then juxtaposed with photos of consumer excess taken in grocery stores or big box stores, as well as the clients' stories and statistics about poverty.

The aboutface.2 exhibit is on display a Cambrian's Open Studio gallery in the city's downtown until March 7. Mayor Brian Bigger has also expressed interest in the exhibit being displayed at Tom Davies Square afterwards.

Graphic design program co-ordinator Ron Beltrame said while Cambrian's main task is preparing students for the workplace, this project has a different aim.

It's to “show them design skills and artistic photographic skills are also good for social dialogue and for influencing thought, changing opinions, re-framing a debate, and not necessarily just for monetary gain,” he said.

While the Samaritan Centre clients were reluctant to have their photos taken last year — Beltrame said they almost had to pitch the project to them — this year they had much more co-operation.

He said he thinks they appreciated the fact that they've been treated with dignity. The photos taken for the exhibition both years are now hanging in the Samaritan Centre.

“We ask questions like 'When's the last time you had your picture taken?'” Beltrame said.

“A lot of times they can't even remember having their photograph taken, or it happens to be when they get arrested.

“In a way, we're recording them for posterity. They live on the planet just like the rest of us. A lot of them will probably leave nothing behind, and so these images may be a lasting legacy to some degree.”

The photos of consumer excess were included to show how most people have far more than they need, while others living in the same city have almost nothing.

Third-year graphic design student Brittney Smith, who participated in the project both years, said it's been a rewarding experience.

“They were really open,” she said. “They weren't shy. They wanted to be there. They wanted us to give them a face. They were totally for it. I felt like almost a friend to them. They opened up to me and told me everything about their story.”

Open Studio, located at 93 Cedar St., on the third floor, is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. and Thursdays from 2-6 p.m. Admission to aboutface.2 is free, although donations to the Samaritan Centre are welcome.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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