Photos by Anchorage homeless reveal a different way of seeing the city

mdunham@adn.comNovember 2, 2013 

  • PIX: A CALL TO LOOK will be on display through the month of November at Moose A’La Mode, 1001 W. 4th Ave.

This summer, guests at Brother Francis Shelter took disposable cameras and captured images of their Anchorage on film. Professional photographers gave tips in weekly sessions and helped review the photos as they were developed. Some of the resulting work is now on display at Moose A'La Mode in a show informally titled both "Pix: A Call to Look" and "A World Through a Different Lens."

Participants ranged from novices to fairly experienced photographers, said Lisa Caldeira, the shelter's program director. "There was a lot of curiosity about the program. Some of the people were already artists in their own right who had painted or drawn before; others had an ongoing love of photography."

The program was organized by local photographer DeRoy Brandt. Participants were encouraged to experiment with unusual angles and subjects, but were given three restrictions: no photos of private artwork, no photos in the shelter and no portraits. "It's important for us to respect people's privacy," Caldeira said. (Which is why photographers are identified only by their first name.)

Former Daily News photo editor Richard Murphy, who currently holds the Snedden Chair of Journalism position at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and was one of Brandt's professors at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was among the professionals who presented workshops for the project.

"The thing that intrigued me about the photos is that they were a view of our city that most of us have never seen," Murphy said. "I've probably seen more pictures of Anchorage than any other person on the planet, but this was a new perspective for me. They were bringing in images of things I was familiar with from a completely different angle. There aren't a lot of revelations left for me about Anchorage -- but here they were."

There are probably as many reasons for finding a unique view of the city as there are photographers, but Caldeira theorized that one thing that set the Brother Francis shooters apart was they primarily travel by foot. "They see things a lot of other people don't," she said. "Ship Creek, or even walking downtown, the perspective is different."

The geography of Anchorage changes depending on whether one is settled or homeless. Most citizens see the city as a map connecting their residence, work, school, shopping and recreational venues, a world of spread-out neighborhoods, stores, parks and trail heads only minutes from each other, linked by a familiar blur of streets, highways and intersections.

Seeing things at foot-speed pulls that blur into focus.

Among the subjects that the Brother Francis photographers found camera-worthy is barriers. Several images show walls, fences, chain-link, barbed wire and concertina coil. As viewed in these photos, such limits are not an impersonal aspect of urban life, ignored or easily negotiated if one has a valid reason for going to the other side. Instead, they can be seen as projecting entrapment or nemesis.

But one may also be struck by an absence of grittiness, by the elegance of structural symmetry, the delight of wildlife or the awe of light and sunsets -- often as captured from unexpected locations.

"They saw some beauty in places where most Anchorage residents wouldn't," said Murphy.

In many cases, Caldeira said, photographers wanted to show favorite places in their everyday life: a particular bus stop, a boulder in front of their church.

The pictures were taken with small and fairly primitive cameras. "I took one and went out to take some photos myself," said Murphy. "It was something of a challenge, with plenty of limitations. Given that, I was pretty impressed with what they came back with."

The 32 matted images in the display are being sold for $25 each, said Caldeira. That money will go to the photographer. Money earned from the sale of unmatted reproductions ($10) and postcard-sized images ($3) will be used to buy more cameras for the next project.

"We want to do it again," said Caleira. "That's the hope."

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.

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