Aaron Draper Takes Stunning Photos of Homeless

Photographer Aaron Draper is using his photography skills to bring awareness about homelessness by providing us gorgeous images of our human society's proverbial underbelly. By taking time to apply his artistic eye to the invisible, he's forcing the average person to stop and think about their respective roles in our world. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out this behind-the-scenes video and a few shots of Draper's fine work.

The project began with Draper's own curiosity with being homeless. In the video he conveys that as a child in a low-income family, he often wondered about homelessness. Years later, he's now a professor of photography at California State University and decided it was time to use his skills to bring awareness.

Photographer Aaron Draper brings attention to homelessness in America with gorgeous portraits.

Aaron Draper seeks to capture their life with his portraits.

“I also always felt that photographers have a duty to use their art to change policy, to change people's ideas, and to make people feel and think differently,” Draper said. But to him, it's about capturing part of their essence, their struggle, their life. “I see a people that are resourceful, and that have found a way to live in the world where nobody else would want to live, and in a way nobody else would want to live... The homeless walk around with the lines on their faces of everything they've ever done.“

Draper, of course, pays them for their time. But in addition to that he also tries to get a copy of their image back to them. For many more photos and more information, please do check out Aaron Draper's website dedicated to the project.

Man poses with items he's collected on the streets.

All images used with permission.

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Sean Shimmel's picture


A winsome blend of vision and craft

Anders Brinckmeyer's picture

Wow! Super awesome pictures and the motivation and idea behind is great. Absolutely fantastic!

Anonymous's picture

excellent portraits...they give these homeless people almost an aura of wellbeing and adventure...but that would be far from the truth...

Prefers Film's picture

Not always. I have a friend that is homeless by choice. He travels a lot, and seems to enjoy the adventure. He can't stay in one place too long, but shares awesome tales when he passes through town. His travels are funded by our tax dollars, thanks to a medical condition.

Alice Avenne's picture

"Raise awareness"? Unless you're an idiot who lives in an ice palace everyone knows about homeless people...

Beautiful photos though!

Alice Avenne's picture

My fiancés brother makes do with less than 100 euros a month and he doesn't complain. Right now he lives in his car and visits his brother every morning so that he can take a shower. Life is hard because there are way too many people on earth. There is no way to fix that.

Alice Avenne's picture

are you a communist?

Alice Avenne's picture

Oh okay, i was just checking whether you believed in an evil thieving and mass murdering ideology which caused over 100 million deaths and makes hitler look like a schoolboy in comparison.

Maybe you are some kind of hardcore socialist then?

As the great Winston Churchill said: "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery."

Now go ponder on that and all the suffering you and your evil party members cause people who worked hard all their lives. I have more productive stuff to do than to keep arguing with you.

Justin Richmond's picture

vanitas. Which greedy few do you speak of? Why are you so upset with Alice's comment? It seems to me she was just trying to relate and you laid into her with unnecessary aggression. I don't think it's clear that she is a "sorry excuse of a human being" as you so eloquently put it. It is clear to me though that you have some kind of issue. Just not sure what it is. Can you explain?

Igor Butskhrikidze's picture

nice one

Santiago Reil's picture

First of all let me start by saying that I hate homeless pictures. I hate those photos in black and white with clarity and sharpness cracked to mark every possible thing in the face of a person, generally taken without consent, or if cough in the act, looking back at the photographer with a fierce look on his face, making the effect ever worst (or better if you like that style). For me it is a low blow, it is not artistic, it is praying photographically on the weak.

So I will give this photographer some points for not doing that, and for giving a nicer look at people in this situation. Personally, my favorite photo is the one of the man between the violet flowers. I think that photo is incredible. The contrast between the color of the flowers, and the neutrality, gray, colour-ness of the subject is incredible. Then there are many nice ones, but my second problem, is that many of the nice ones I see, I dont see a homeless. I see them too stylized. It almost feels like they are having a great time, so if the idea is to bring awareness, to what? To this great life we are missing? Yes, I know, Im exaggerating, nothing says great life in those pictures, but nothing says poverty or homeless either. Except for the one in the flowers, that color contrast.

Finally, in first world countries, many times homeless has more to do with mental illness and drug abuse than poverty. I come from a south american country, where you can see many people living a good quality life (Im one of the lucky ones) but that also has a lot of poverty. IF you see a homeless person, it is not uncommon to give them something, a coin, etc. I remembered some time ago, a friend of mine went to canada, and there while going around with some local friends, canadians, he saw a homeless, and was going to give him something, but his friends told him not to do it. That if he was not working it was not because he couldn't find a job but because he didn't want to. I suppose that may be partially true. I think thats where mental illness, psychological problems, adaptation problems, etc, kick off, and are the important factor. Not giving them a job, or giving them money, but helping them to get back into society. But again, many people end there escaping society.

So, back to my main idea. For someone that took so many photos of a target that I hate to see, these are great, but for the effect looked after, consciousness, I only find it in one shot, the flowers shot. Now, if the effect was also to give these people hope and motivation to progress, then maybe that is a win too, even I would like to look as some of the photos here.

Santiago Reil's picture

double post. Delete if you can.

Justin Richmond's picture

I'm sorry to be the skeptic here but the old saying "Taking photos of homeless people is not art, it's exploitation" was the first thing that came to my mind. I watched the video and checked the link to "Aaron Draper's website dedicated to the project". IT'S HIS PERSONAL WEBSITE!!! It's aarondraper.com! I think that if you are going to raise awareness for homeless people, because you care so much, the website should be dedicated to those homeless people with some way for the rest of us to donate to them or the local shelter or facilities that they use. Also, and this is a big one for me, DON'T use those images in your portfolio! Shame on you if you do! Or maybe you are just trying to raise the awareness of your next potential client. IDK. I love Steinbeck and the era he wrote about too. If you all want to see how awareness was raised back then, read about Dorothea Lange and check out some of her work. Migrant Mother is my favorite. Her images were used to raise awareness and in the process she has become somewhat famous. Her work is for sale and I do own one of her books. The point is that fame and money were not her intent. They were simply the byproduct of her life's work. I don't mean to be harsh especially if they guy is genuine. But please don't include those photos on your personal website. If your other work is good enough it will stand on it's own. Here is an idea. Build a website for your homeless people portraits and copy write the images to them. Leave no trace of the artist. No link to your own website. I think I could respect a website like that. It would help most of us feel like you truly are genuine in your quest to raise awareness of the homeless.