Sept 8, 2015Vol. 46, Issue 1

Humanizing the Homeless

Lecturer Aaron Draper’s photo series “Underexposed”

Play the slideshow to view some of the photographs from communication design lecturer Aaron Draper's series "Underexposed."

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Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted on North State Public Radio’s website mynspr.org.

A Chico State instructor’s photography series documenting homelessness throughout California recently garnered attention across the web.

Aaron Draper, who teaches digital photography and has worked professionally throughout Northern California for many years, began the series titled "Underexposed" in 2013 in an attempt to humanize those who are homeless and inspire social activism. The documentary portraits were taken throughout the state, in cities including Chico, Oroville, Marysville, Modesto, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Draper (BA, ’12) began the series as a personal project titled "Forgotten Faces," but while earning his MFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, he decided to continue the work as his master’s thesis project under the new name.

“My intention with this series was to present the homeless community in a way that the public would want to know more about them, increasing their exposure and generating more awareness of the homeless problem in the U.S.,” he said.

A behind-the-scenes shot from lecturer Aaron Draper's "Underexposed" project.

A behind-the-scenes shot from lecturer Aaron Draper's "Underexposed" project.

For each of his subjects, Draper asked permission to take their photo, paid them for their time, asked them to sign photo releases, and returned within the week to share their portrait with them.

“I approached the project as a guy who was trying to learn about another man or woman that happened to live on the street,” Draper said in an interview with DIY Photography. “When I’m looking for subjects to photograph, I usually base it on two things: their story and their face. While I will pay everyone I photograph, I generally display the ones whose stories resonate with me and whose faces mirror those stories.”

Draper said the attention the project received was unexpected. Though most of the responses have been positive, some online commenters have accused him of exploiting those who are homeless for his own purposes.

“Once they hear more about the scope of my project they'll see that this is entirely untrue,” Draper said in a written response to critics. “But I do enjoy controversy. I enjoy it because it keeps people talking about an issue that is close to my heart.”

To view all the images from "Underexposed," visit Draper’s website.

For a list of homeless shelters and services in the North State and elsewhere, visit shelterlistings.org.

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