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.