A Photographer Captured Homeless Men And Women As They Dream To Be Seen

Romanian photographer Horia Manolache is tackling stigma through art.
Horia Manolache

When Romanian photographer Horia Manolache first came to San Francisco, the first thing he noticed was the city’s significant homeless population.

Researchers estimate that the total number of homeless adults and children residing in San Francisco in 2013 was 7,350. Statistics from 2015 showed a slight increase to 7,539, while a 10-year survey of data noted a 7 percent increase overall in the number of homeless individuals in San Francisco.

Manolache has worked previously on projects that took him up and down San Francisco’s streets, encountering those suffering from homelessness along the way. “I began to be familiar with the people that I saw everyday,” he explained in a statement. “I began to speak with them.”

Ultimately, Manolache, a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, began to ask himself: What brought these individuals here and how would their lives have been different had they been given the option to pursue their dreams?

So began “The Prince and the Pauper,” a photography series that started as a class project and has since morphed into a self-published book, for which Manolache is currently raising funds on Indigogo. The dual portraits show his subjects ― homeless men and women living in San Francisco ― as they exist today and how they dream to be seen.

Horia Manolache

Through conversations and interviews, Manolache learned that some of his subjects harbored concrete dreams of becoming beauty queens and chefs, while others just longed to be remembered for their military careers or their senses of humor. Along with providing food, clothing, money, and sometimes places to stay for his participants, Manolache acquired the costumes necessary to make their dreams reality for a brief photo shoot.

“The goal of my project was to show these people in an unlikely approach and from an unlikely distance,” Manolache explains in his campaign. “I’m trying to change a mentality, a generalization that has made its mark on the homeless people,” Manolache adds, citing the tendency for some to broadly categorize homeless individuals as lazy or lost victims of mental illness. “I hope my project will do some justice in this matter and I hope it is a part of a bigger movement.”

Manolache, influenced by projects like Jim Goldberg’s “Rich and Poor,” recognizes that photographing homeless individuals can be viewed as a controversial act. “Photographically, it is an over-exploited and, in some circles, obsolete subject,” he explains online. But he doesn’t see it that way, reiterating that he hopes his photos will provide the personal narratives necessary to overcome stigma.

“My project is about the dreams of the people who have forgotten to dream or couldn’t dream,” he concludes. “They reached a moment in their life when they don’t have food, water, they don’t have a place to wash themselves, the bank took their house, their mind is unsettled from war horrors or they are wanted by police for an unpaid bill. Now imagine you are in this moment and you want to dream.”

See a preview of the photos below, with captions provided by the photographer. For more on the campaign, head to Indiegogo. A portion of his campaigns funds will go to Taking It To The Streets, an organization dedicated to empowering homeless youth in San Francisco.

"[This is] Jennifer from the McCloud family. She came from Ireland along with her husband, but somewhere along the way they got divorced. She is very shy when she is sober." -Horia Manolache
"Max is a Vietnam and Gulf war veteran. He’d been serving in the army for 43 years. He says that when he returned he gave up everything and went on the streets. He now has problems with alcohol and he barely walks because of health problems. He traveled a lot. A regret that he has is that he doesn’t speak with his daughter anymore." -Horia Manolache
"Henry is a former drug and alcohol addict. He is selling newspapers now for an organization that takes care of homeless people. He is from Mississippi." -Horia Manolache
"Mike was the first to be in this project. He comes from Ohio, he had to run from there because he used to smoke weed and the police caught him so he was arrested. He is now rebuilding his life. He has a place to stay and he started to work, thanks to an organization from San Francisco." -Horia Manolache
"Bill had to run away from the state he was living in. The reason he had to leave seems unjust but his alternative was jail. He wished to send these photos to his mother because she has Alzheimer's and in this way she will recognize him when [returns]." -Horia Manolache
"McKayas lived very close to Haight Street when he was a kid. He is proud that his parents were part of the hippie movement in the '60s. He lived in Mexico, Hawaii, Indonesia, Panama, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru and he plans to visit every country in the world." -Horia Manolache
"Pops was in the Vietnam war also. He was an engineer, he started to do drugs and he lost his job. He was addicted for 12 years and he was in a rehab clinic. Unfortunately, he is now an alcoholic." -Horia Manolache
"This photo is somehow symbolic for me, for the times we live in. His identity was stolen, his girlfriend stole his wallet, his credit score went down and so on till he [became] homeless. He realized that his life was so overwhelming -...] he didn’t have a moment to stop and think what his dreams were." -Horia Manolache
Horia Manolache
"I met Frank in Hunters Point, San Francisco. He lived in a self-made trailer along with his wife and her dog. A big concern for him was that the police will take his house. He says he was raised with a butler but drugs brought him here. He was working in constructions when I met him. We had to photograph him on the street and on a building site. His wife wished to be a ballerina but because she was overweight, she felt uncomfortable to pose for this project. Frank is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met." -Horia Manolache
"Tammy is a star on Height Street in San Francisco. If she can’t bring a smile to your face, then nobody will. Her biggest pain is that her grandmother and her first husband took her kids away from her." -Horia Manolache
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