Sam Herron: From Homelessness to Documentary Photographer

Posted: March 17, 2015 in homelessness
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

447

I first learned of Sam Herron              on Face Book. I was impressed with his talent as a photographer. But I was even more impressed with his empathy for those he photographs—the homeless men and women who live on the streets in Omaha, Nebraska.

People might wonder how Sam gets these up-close-and-personal glimpses of homeless men and women who spend most of their lives invisible to the general public.

Sam will tell you that it’s because he understands them. He understands them because he was once one of them. “Just lose your entire life,” he says. “Live in your car. And you, too, can photograph the street.”

Sam doesn’t take pictures just to be taking pictures. He knows many of the people he photographs personally. They talk sometimes for an hour before Sam takes out his camera and asks them if he can photograph them. They tell Sam about their life on the streets, how their day is going, and Sam can relate to all of them.

Just like so many others, Sam never thought he would be in their situation. “Not me,” he says. “But when I was…it changed me. And I wanted to show it.”

It happened slowly at first. He lost his job. He found another job, but lost that one, too. He was jobless for a month, then two, then four. He struggled with depression and anxiety and he sometimes drank too much. Eventually, after spending his life’s savings and selling most of his possessions, he realized he had nowhere to go. It was the dead of winter, right around Valentine’s Day.

The first night, he parked underneath the 10th Street Bridge and shut off his car. He woke up in the morning shivering uncontrollably. His toes were numb. By the end of the first week, Sam had started to develop a routine. He would wake up in the morning, pull on one of his shirts he had carefully folded in the trunk, and drive to the Blue Line Coffee in north downtown just as it opened. Once inside, he would walk to the bathroom, lock the door, and using the sink and the soap dispenser, he would give himself what passed for a bath.

He would buy a cup of coffee, open his battered laptop computer and apply for jobs online. And then, if he had any change left, he would buy another cup of coffee and write. He wrote about his life; about his homelessness; or whatever popped into his head. In the afternoon, Sam headed to 13th Street Coffee & Tea in the Old Market and continued to apply for jobs and write on his laptop.

At night, he would go to the Rose & Crown Pub near 20th and Howard Streets. The regulars there got to know him and would buy him drinks. Everybody thought he was just an eccentric, tattooed writer who liked to drink. (This was partially true) But what they didn’t know was that Sam stayed there until closing every night because it was warm.

After closing time, Sam would steer his car toward the same spot beside a church on Leavenworth Street. He would blast the heater during the drive, and then he would park and shut off the car. Each night, he would sleep with his work boots on. He would wake up at 6:30, get dressed, and start all over again. After a while, he began to wonder, “Am I ever gonna get out of this car?”

It’s hard for Sam to choose his lowest point while he was in this valley, but he says it’s easy to pinpoint the moment when he started climbing back out. It was the moment that he first picked up his old Canon SD 400 camera, (one of the few things he hadn’t sold) and began to shoot photos of his fellow down-and-out fraternity brothers.

Sam had developed a pattern for the men he didn’t know. He would offer them a cigarette and then strike up a conversation. He would tell them his story and eventually he’d ask: “Can I take your picture?”

Last year Sam hosted an exhibit at Creighton University called “Street Life Chronicles,” which featured images of the homeless in Omaha. Sam said it was “soul crushing” having to relive his time on the streets. “I went to my old homeless haunts twice a day to catch the right sunlight.” He recalls. “That was the easy part. Having to endlessly live out my recent past with those who still suffered was the difficult part.”

Sam is doing much better now. He worked as a stand-in for Bruce Dern in Alexander Payne’s movie, “Nebraska.” And he picked up a few photo jobs. Then he picked up a few more. He also started his own freelance photography business.

He soon plans to work on a long-term shoot with a fashion photographer. And if things work out, he will travel to exhibit his photos at a Creighton sister university in China.

Last year Sam was nominated for Best Emerging Visual Artist by Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards of 2014. Some of his photos were showcased during the award ceremonies at the RNG gallery in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Sam has done more than just take great photographs. He has given us a glimpse into the invisible world of the homeless community. If you look closely, you will also get a glimpse of the man behind the camera—and hopefully, see a little of yourself there too.

Sam still thinks of his companions on the street and says, “Many tonight will be in a similar situation without the benefit of an automobile to sleep in, and it’s a sad fact that should give all compassionate people pause.”

Our heart should reach out to all the invisible people in our city. They are someone’s mother, father, brother and sister—and they are created in God’s image. Remember Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

 

“I was and continue to be exceptionally poor by some people’s standards. On the other hand when compared with a large percentage of the planet, I’m suffering from an embarrassment of riches.” – Sam Herron

777. Vs1

 

 

 

 

416. Vs2
 

 

 

 

837

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Ipso Facto Photography – by Sam Herron – used by permission

You can contact Sam at— https://www.facebook.com/samuelherron

More stories like this can be found in The Heartland News Street Newspaper. The Heartland News primarily addresses issues related to poverty and homelessness and is distributed by poor or homeless venders. Venders sell the paper for a set price, (usually $1.00) and keep the money they make. For many, this gives them the opportunity for a first small step toward independence and permanent housing.

To donate contact:

The Heartland News 4001 Ames Ave, Omaha, Ne. 68111.

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. OMG. I too have been homeless and climbed out. 14 years hidden in the shadows waiting for morning. This blog moved me because homelessness is my passion. My blog is on my 14 year journey, a no holds barred, honest and truthful telling of good and bad times. Great blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s