Photo by Steve Fanell

Under the Same Sun: The Street Photography of Steve Fanell

Photographing the homeless can be a difficult proposition. You have to find them. (In many cases their goal is to remain invisible.) You have to earn their trust—they’ve been burned repeatedly—in a short period of time. Finally, you have to convince them to be photographed, and perhaps outed to friends, family, the cops, parole officers and the rest of the world.

Steve Fanell makes it look easy. The subjects of his intimate portraits appear comfortable, despite their circumstances, as if seeing a friend for the first time in a while. Fanell thinks he knows why.

“’Cause I’m one of them,” theorizes the burly, bearded 48-year-old. “When I take the photos, I see myself in the people. I see the suffering in their eyes. I can relate.”

Fanell, who was born and raised in Hawaii and moved to Southern Nevada in 1997, has never been homeless, but he says he was physically abused as a boy. More recently, as a diver for an environmental consulting company, he has recovered dead bodies from the depths of Lake Mead. For many years, he was hard and calloused. Even angry. Age and photography, which he became serious about 10 years ago, have helped mellow him out.

While he also shoots nature and entertainment photography, Fanell’s images of the local homeless, many of which were taken Downtown, are his most powerful. They provide the sensation of being welcomed into a homeless camp. They, along with their captions, are jarring, in your face, which is exactly the effect Fanell strives for.

“I want them to stir an emotion, even if it’s hate,” he says. “Hate is an emotion; it shows that the photos were effective. If they can get an emotion, you’ve left a mark and impression. They will remember it for a long time.” —Matthew O’Brien



“Cover your ears; you can’t let them in. Hurry up, man. I hear them coming.” This is John and he is adamant about his ears being covered up. I’m not sure if he is mentally ill or if he was tweaked out. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



James has spent 17 years in prison—10 in California and seven in Nevada. He has been a heroin addict for 20 years with an expensive habit. How does he afford that? You do whatever it takes, he said. James also said he contracted AIDS and hepatitis from sharing needles. One thing he loved was his wife of 18 years, who stuck with him through thick and thin. She was his best friend, but she died about a year ago from a blood clot. It happened quickly. One day she was here, he said, and the next she was gone. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



Jason is new to the homeless scene. He got into a little trouble with the law and is going to lay low for a while till things cool down. He is also a tattoo artist. He showed me some of the work his “homie” inked on to his body. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



This is the reality of being homeless. After I took this photo I noticed his shoes by his side. I was thinking, How does he wear them with his feet so messed up? I tried to talk to him; he woke up for a few seconds and told me to fuck off. I didn’t want to push the issue. He was trying to sleep and I didn’t want to bother him any more than I had already. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



Sometimes you run across certain individuals who just stick in your head. Manuel is one of them. You can’t help but smell the stench coming off him. You can see he urinates his pants. I almost threw up the first time I met him. There’s no communication with him. He just stares into space. It’s hard to watch. It’s like watching a man drown when you don’t have a life preserver. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



“That stupid bitch stole my weed!” This is Willy. He was a little upset. Apparently his girlfriend had taken off with his stash of weed. There was drama in the streets that day. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



After Shirley calmed down, she showed me how many cans she collected today. See, she was pissed that I came walking up to her home out in the desert where she lives. After she called me an asshole five or six times, she started to open up. She said she came to Vegas in the ’70s from China. I asked what brought her to Vegas. She laughed. “I was a swimsuit model and was working for one of the casinos. I had a lot of fun back then. Not so much now.” (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



Linda had just finished taking a shower and was drying off in the sun. She has a special way of bathing. She puts a garbage bag on the ground, so it can collect the sprinkler water and she can wash her face. Then she walks through the sprinkler like it’s a shower. She has a small towel that she pats herself down with and the rest dries quickly in the desert air. (Photo by Steve Fanell.)



“Hey, Chuck. What’s going on?” “Not much. I have something I want to show you.” He popped out of his chair and ran to his duffel bag, and the whole time he was mumbling to himself. Then, all of a sudden, he yelled, “Here it is! Check out my new grill!” “Where’d you get it, Chuck?” “I bought it from this old lady down the street for a dollar. Her old man died, so she’s selling all kinds of stuff.” (Photo by Steve Fanell.)

See more of Fanell’s work at

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