January 18, 2017 / THE ART OF THE START
January 18, 2017
From the time I was 16 years-old I’ve been involved in photojournalism. Throughout my career I have had a passion for covering socioeconomic issues, particularly documenting stories of homeless individuals and others affected by what I refer to as the “industrial dissolution” – the shift from an economy driven by industry and labor to one driven by technology. I have always enjoyed volunteering at homeless centers, befriending the people there, and when possible using photography to tell their stories.
I recently had the pleasure of volunteering with a grassroots organization called Sharp Dressed Man, which provides high quality suits for unemployed, often homeless men who are not able to afford appropriate business attire to reenter the workforce. The Baltimore startup was founded by a friend of mine, clothier Christopher Schafer, with the goal of providing people with a new start in life through a simple suit.
In pursuit of better
The organization partners with other outreach programs and shelters to locate men who are trying to reenter the workforce. Once a candidate is granted a job interview, he is given a referral to visit Sharp Dressed Man where he’s fitted for a high quality suit. The suits are a combination of donations and overstocks and each is custom fit to each man through the volunteer work of experienced tailors. These men are not simply given a new suit, but an experience typically only had by the wealthy. The combination is especially powerful for a man who is trying to work his way off the street.
Confidence through coats
It is incredibly moving to watch the reactions of the men as they receive something so simple. When they walk through the door they’re carrying enormous burdens on their shoulders, but when they look in the mirror wearing their new suits their eyes light up and they smile at themselves with a new sense of pride and dignity. They no longer see someone who lives on the street; instead they see a confident man capable of accomplishing anything.
And when they arrive at their job interview they are not just well dressed, they’re usually the best dressed man in the room. During the interview, they are no longer defined by their situation – whether they are homeless, a recovering addict or struggling with something else that might hold them back from employment. They now appear to both the interviewer and themselves as a proud and confident individual who is a viable candidate for the job.
Transforming hope through giving
I had the privilege of photographing these men with their new sense of pride, confidence and personal reinvention. Because you can so vividly see the hope in the men’s eyes when they look at their new reflection, Schafer hopes to one day set up a camera behind the mirror to capture the moment of transformation. You can see hope enter back into their life in that moment. For many homeless people, hope is difficult to recapture once lost. Oftentimes, they feel severely crippled in their ability to control their own destinies. Witnessing hope being restored is profoundly beautiful.
Giving is getting
Watching the transformation gives the Sharp Dressed Man volunteers a great sense of fulfillment. They know firsthand that it is so much more rewarding to give than to receive. The volunteers receive the greatest gift of all – knowing that they have had a profound effect on the life of another human being. Such a gift is priceless, and unlike gifts of a material nature, this one can never be taken away.