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
See more of Fanell’s work at stevefanellraw.com.