Thursday, September 22, 2005
Opening reception for "True Exposure" photos of Denver and Boulder homeless by Jessica Maynard
5 to 7 p.m. today
Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill, Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue
Every piece of art has an entry point -- a doorway through which you pass and disappear into someone else's way of seeing things. Jessica Maynard's work should always be entered through the eyes. It's the thing that sets her work apart from that of other photographers.
Her photographs are shot from close range, which is intimate or intimidating depending on how comfortable you are looking at someone as carefully as if you were inspecting yourself in a mirror.
It can be especially provoking when those eyes are peering from the faces of homeless teens whose realities are brutal, lonely and sometimes blanketed under layers of drugs and alcohol.
For five days, Maynard will show a group of prints from a project she completed in May 2004.
Maynard spent a week on the streets of Denver and Boulder getting to know and photographing the homeless people there. Some of her photos were published in the book "Colorado 24/7," but this is the first time she printed the images and is showing them publicly.
"Living in Steamboat, we are not exposed to the traumas of homeless teens," Maynard said. "We're protected here. We're sheltered.
"As a photographer, I have the ability to use my camera to show people that reality."
Maynard saw the homeless on the 16th Street Mall in Denver whenever she visited the city. She was curious about them and decided to use her camera lens to break through the barrier between her world and theirs.
The first shot she took was of a guy, probably in his late teens or early 20s, with a tattoo on his face. He was sitting on a bench with friends on the 16th Street Mall.
"They were so drugged up," Maynard said. "They were right there, but they were in a different world." They had a cup out on the sidewalk asking for money. Maynard watched them for a while before she approached and asked whether she could take their photo.
"They were so responsive," she said. "They started telling me how they were waiting to buy drugs. They told me what trains they rode and where they were from.
"The guy with the tattoo was so high on heroin. He was there and not there at all. They gave me a glimpse into their world."
After a few days in Denver, the weight of the world she was getting a glimpse into was too much for her to take. "It became very emotional for me. I was starting to feel their pain. I wanted to do something for them, but there was nothing I could do. I didn't have any answers. I couldn't help.
"They were so young."
As she watched the teens she met, some as young as 13, she thought about herself as a teenager. She thought about a time in her life when she was having a hard time, and she thought about the teacher who wrote her a five-page letter of advice and support.
"I still have that letter," she said. "I still take it out and read it when I'm feeling hopeless."
The teens on the street, she realized, would never experience that kind of mentorship. She hopes that showing these photos will inspire people to reach out to teens -- if not to the homeless teens of other communities, then to the teens of this community.
Maynard pointed to one photo of a 13-year-old girl wearing a T-shirt that read, "KILL" across her chest.
"I picture that photo on a billboard on I-70 with the word 'WHY?' underneath it," Maynard said. "Why is she so angry? When I took that photo, I saw loneliness in her eyes. I wondered how I could help her see beyond her pain to something better.
"From my personal experience with my teacher reaching out to me, I know it only takes one person."