< Return To News Archive
December 24, 2010
Veterans get off the street and into art by finding a home and photography

by Elizabeth Lazarowitz

Picture this: A group of vets who once lived on the streets are learning to see life through a new lens in photography class.

About seven formerly homeless veterans, now staying at the Doe Fund's temporary housing facility in East Williamsburg, are learning the basics of light, perspective and composition in a pilot program that lets them tap into their creative side.

"Having to take pictures ... you get to see things any other day you'd walk past," said Samuel Aguirre, 34, who grew up in the Bronx and served on a peacekeeping mission in Yugoslavia from 1996 to 1998.

Mecea for News
Aubrey Edwards explains workings of camera to one-time homeless vet in her photography class at Doe Fund center in East Williamsburg.
For Aguirre, the class is a welcome break from the regimentation of the program, which often includes work as one of the blue-uniformed "Ready, Willing & Able" members who clean the city's streets.

"You feel free. Nobody tells you what to take a picture of," said Aguirre, who became homeless after losing a Postal Service job.

The group meets two times every other week for a lecture and a separate weekend picture-taking excursion. So far, they've ventured to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and Prospect Park.

Bedford-Stuyvesant photographer and educator Aubrey Edwards, 31, pitched the idea of a class this fall to her friend Thomas Popowich, who staffs the veterans program at the 400-bed Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity.

"We're trying to teach new thoughts, new behaviors, and by giving them these things, it's exactly what we're accomplishing," Popowich said.

Edwards said she saw firsthand the therapeutic value of photography while working with the New Orleans Kid Camera Project after Hurricane Katrina.

"A lot of kids don't know how to talk about stress and feelings," she said. "If you give them a camera and let them document their feelings, it's an easier way to give them a voice."

She figured veterans going through the difficult task of rebuilding their lives - many of whom struggle with drug and alcohol problems - might find it just as helpful.

She raised $1,200 for the class, half from her own pocket, and rounded up donated digital point-and-shoot cameras.

Class member Garry Carson, 54, used one to get an artsy shot of the Intrepid's glass-encased fire hose, which reminds him of his proud days working on an aircraft carrier.

"For us older guys, it gives us something to do," said Bob Jordan, 51, a former field medic who saw combat during Desert Storm and saw some fellow soldiers lose their lives. "I do find it very relaxing."

Photos by the veterans can be viewed at

< Return To News Archive ^ back to top