In October 2007 while shooting in the train tunnel I noticed smoke rising from a burning cigarette on the ground next to me. Clearly a signal. I spoke to the top of a portion of a wall against which a ladder was placed. No one answered. Carts and broken suitcases were stacked nearby. Above, amidst piles of garbage bags, I could see a bucket, shoes, a bottle of water, and various articles of clothing. Later I went back to the wall to inform the house that I would be returning the next day. Chuck and Lisa stood up. Lisa was pregnant.
Mole People is a derogatory and misleading name. Those who find a refuge underground are not moles, just people seeking a safe place to live.
This series of 35mm digital prints comes from years spent on the street following men and women part of an illusive culture not always considered with sympathy, who accepted my company. I never knew what would happen or who I would find. Sometimes they just told me to follow them. It was important to me to preserve the beauty of place and people. I never censored, but neither did they. The people of the Tunnel/River/Batcave community took huge personal risks for this work and gave it everything they had, their story, their time, their protection, their love. All they asked was that I accept and tell the truth, all of it, even when it wasn’t easy for them or me, in the hopes that young people who might see their story will know that this is not the way to live.
What does it take for these men and women to live in rough and challenging conditions for as long as twenty, thirty years? Kindness, courage, acceptance, and shared hardship. They took care of one another, shared resources, saved lives, stood together against predators and extended comfort to the damaged, to the deeply saddened.
The beauty of place of people is real…and it is a brutal life. Most if not all of the women and some of the men have been raped. Most if not all of them, beaten. They are at high risk of malnutrition, of overdose, of food and drug poisoning. Psychosocial disabilities are common. All of them have PTSD. Other then in jail, mentally ill people on the street are receiving their primary care from the mentally ill people on the street. Necessary medications, dosages often not adjusted, are at high risk of theft and loss. Addictions complicate and further disable. City shelters are considered to be bug infested dehumanizing jail like places where theft, assaults and rape do occur
Since 1986, informal settlements have existed in the area where I photographed, despite the no tolerance methods used to economically cleanse the area of it’s homeless. For years the Tunnel, the Whitehouse and The Batcave were safe havens. Now that time is over.
Fragile and resilient, tragic and beautiful, self-destructive yet surviving, these homeless men and women are just people. Neither more than us, nor less than us they are a part of us. And they are apart from us. Nothing is simple in the shadows of the street