Urban Ore: The secret Life of Scrappers

Steve

It’s funny how things sometime just land in your lap. This was the case last year when, exploring the old Washington Packing Corp. building that I ran into a group of homeless scrappers who were stripping what was left of the building for any metal scrap that they could sell for a profit. This luck encounter of being in the right place at the right time would develop into a very interesting 6 month experience spending all of my time under a freeway in a homeless camp, eating and scrapping with a very dynamic group of characters.
So, Urban Ore: The Secret Life of Scrappers was developed. I have been sitting on these photos for sometime figuring out what to do with them, how to string the story together. I am now in the process of revisiting these photos to finalize the story for what it’s worth.
People who knew that I was working on this story have asked why I stopped associating myself with the homeless camp. The truth of the matter is that I knew I was onto a very interesting story. I was near embedding myself into the homeless camp–living with them, and scrapping with them to further expand the story. At one point a few crack heads I met in the camp one afternoon, like any other paranoid dope head, were very suspicious of me, thinking I was an undercover officer of some sort. They refused to believe my “I’m a student working on a project.” These stranger would no doubt play a major role in the breakdown of trust that I had built up with the permanent residents of the camp. Each time I went to the camp my connections were growing more distant and weaker. No one would talk with me, and everyone would sit around silently. A very uncomfortable silence. What finally broke this relationship off was, after a scrap run one afternoon to an undisclosed location, they asked me how it felt to be an accomplis. I denied the fact that I was since I was there only for documentary purposes. They asked if I could transport this item to the scrap yard to sell. I refused to do it, quickly making up some excuse why. In the end I realized that rather being one of them, I separated myself from them severing the trust. I also realized that if it came down to me or them getting busted, these people would have had no problem sacrificing the new guy without a record, before themselves.
I have often thought about going back to check on the people and see how life is in the camp. But I realized it’s probably better left alone.
When the photo essay is done it will be posted on the web site. A multimedia piece will follow as well.
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