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A Mirror for the Human Race

COM photojournalists focus on poverty

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Photojournalists Kristyn Ulanday (COM’10) and Max Esposito (COM’10) will spend their summer working for the photojournalism nonprofit AmericanPoverty.org. Learn more about their project in the video above. Homeless Not Helpless from Kristyn Ulanday on Vimeo.

In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty, urging Americans to come to the rescue of those who live “on the outskirts of hope.” Nearly 50 years later, Kristyn Ulanday and Max Esposito are on the case, and their tool of choice is a camera.

The two photojournalism students recently won a $3,000 grant from AmericanPoverty.org, a subsidiary of the photojournalists nonprofit In Our Own Backyard, to produce a multimedia project about a homeless shelter in Hackensack, N.J.

By documenting the shelter’s struggles and success stories, Ulanday (COM’10) and Esposito (COM’10) hope to bring attention to ways Bergen County is working to help its poorest residents. “Unless people believe that conditions can improve,” Ulanday says, “they won’t be motivated to work toward change.”

AmericanPoverty.org is a multimedia project that examines the plight of impoverished Americans. The project, which was established by Time magazine photographer Steve Liss, recently partnered with Catholic Charities USA to produce nine photographic and multimedia exhibitions that will appear in venues throughout the United States.

When Esposito learned about the availability of the grant, he and Ulanday paired up to profile the Bergen County Housing, Health, and Human Services Center, where Ulanday’s mother is a program developer. “It’s more than just a place to sleep and get a meal,” Ulanday says. “The people who work there help residents get an education, government assistance, permanent housing.”

The pair traveled to New Jersey in January for a one-day whirlwind visit to the center. “We drove down, shot for five hours straight, then turned around and drove back to Boston,” Esposito says.

A combination of still images and video, the project is neither a slide show nor a documentary. “I’m not sure what to call it,” Esposito says. “We’re standing on the brink of a new frontier of photojournalism that doesn’t even have a name.”

At 3 minutes and 44 seconds, “Homeless Not Helpless” is a teaser-trailer for a longer, more in-depth piece that will examine the lives of four homeless New Jersey residents: a Vietnam veteran, a recovering drug addict, a widower, and an illiterate man who has spent most of his life in institutions.

Everything went wrong that could go wrong. “I forgot to hit the record button during one of the interviews,” Ulanday recalls. “We lost a memory card, and our audio was out of sync.”

Still, they made their deadline and submitted the trailer, along with a two-page written proposal, in the midst of midterm exams. “It was such a relief to send it off,” Esposito says. “We were still editing the piece the day we mailed it.”

They plan to return to New Jersey this summer to follow up with the residents they interviewed in January for the longer piece. “My mom stays in touch with them,” Ulanday says. “One of them — the illiterate man — found permanent shelter, so he’s proof that the system is working.”

Neither Ulanday nor Esposito have jobs yet, so they’re particularly grateful for the grant. “Maybe this will open some doors for us,” Esposito says.

Despite a tight job market, neither can imagine giving up photography. “It makes people visible to themselves,” Ulanday says. “You can read about poverty and national disasters, but you don’t fully believe it until you see it.”

And unlike books and movies, which must be translated, the language of photography is universal. “No matter where you’re from,” Esposito says, “you can look at a photo and take something away from it.

“Photography is a mirror for the human race,” he says. “It conveys feelings and emotions in ways that words can’t. I never want to do anything else.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.

6 Comments

6 Comments on A Mirror for the Human Race

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2010 at 12:22 pm

    Awesome

    Amazing job! Can’t wait to see the finished piece. May all the people in all the worlds be happy.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2010 at 2:14 pm

    great work!

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2010 at 4:46 pm

    technical problem to watch the movie

    I wish you haven’t used HD. Not everyone has an advanced system on their computers (My MAC has OS 10.3.2), and therefore the movie starts and stops every few seconds… Usually, I don’t have any problem.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2010 at 10:19 pm

    Addressing that technical problem

    After you click play there is an option to turn HD off in the top right hand corner of the video.

  • sylvia on 04.28.2010 at 1:11 am

    wonderful

    with the soundtrack, the trailer reminds me of Ira Glass’s television series “This American Life.” great attention to detail, it’s great.

  • Jean on 04.28.2010 at 7:29 am

    Kudos to these students and best of luck with their summer project. I hope this is an inkling of the future of photojournalism. It certainly bodes well.

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