Some people go through life and aren't sure how they can take their photography to the next level of giving back. There are many programs and non-profits such as Help Portrait and Operation: Love ReUnited, but nothing that you can say you did or created. Well these 16-year-old brothers decided they would do just that and create something worth remembering.
When Alex and Christopher Kiener were given the task of a community service project for their International Baccalaureate studies they decided they wanted to do something more tangible; something more than just donating time. They were trying to decide how they could be different and stand out from the crowd, and when they were driving through Miami under an overpass they saw the words 'Art is Homeless' in graffiti. “We were in a car under an overpass near downtown Miami,” recalls Chris. ”Spray painted - in graffiti - on one of these concrete posts were three words : ‘ART IS HOMELESS”; that’s when the lights came on!”
Once they got their game plan together with a little help from their father they started photographing homeless around Miami. Alex explains: "We wanted passionate , direct and honest photographic portraits – we were keen to capture these individuals as what they are : human beings – not just another social statistic.” Alexander comments, “ Some were apprehensive and didn't want to be approached or talked to. But quite a few were open to talk and share their stories. What moved us the most, was that many of them were simply content to see a kind face approach them - someone who cared. Many individuals experiencing homelessness feel quite lonely, and they seemed to appreciate meeting someone to talk to, because most other people just look the other way and ignore them.” Upon taking to the streets the boys met people from every aspect of life. Some were college graduates, war veterans or even people who lived on the streets all their lives. The point of the project was to get to know them, and find out how we can help them.
The boys were graciously assisted by their father throughout the entire process. Chris explains: “As long as I remember, our dad has reminded us about the importance of giving back. It is so very easy to forget and ignore others – particularly those who have lost their home having wound up living on the fringes of society. But If you really think about it – if you turn away from a homeless person, then, in fact, you turn away from someone’s brother, sister, mother, or father.”
Though their original idea was to create a book to benefit Camillus house, it spiraled into a much bigger project. They initially launched their website so that fellow students could engage in the cause and other students all over the United States could take part and “actively engage in the homeless cause. Raise awareness by creating your own artistic expression about homelessness: photography, film/video, paintings, poems, dance/ballet.” They then headed to twitter to try and get the word out and socialize with other organizations with the same goals, such as Miami Coalition and National Coalition for the Homeless. Florida International University then took notice and Brian Schriner, the Dean of the Arts & Architecture Department became interested in the program. Now the young men have an exhibit at the FIU Miami Campus, Graham Center, September 1 – 10, 2013. A second exhibit will take place in October at Camillus House and they're hoping to expand into fundraising efforts with Miami Cares 2013.
The the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. The boys have done a small part in the fight against homelessness, if you want to help please head over to the National Coalition for the Homeless and see how you can.