They say a photograph is worth a thousand words. In Randy Bacon’s new exhibition, he not only lets the pictures speak for themselves, but he shares those thousand words alongside the portrait. Rather than turning a blind eye, photographer Bacon has devoted himself to capturing the individuality, presence, and powerful stories of homeless people in his city of Springfield, Missouri. Bacon’s new photography exhibit “The Road I Call Home” is on view through Dec. 19 at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art. The photographer joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes and museum curator Madeline Beck to talk about the emotionally impactful exhibit and the remarkable individuals whose faces and stories give it life.
How Bacon found a fellowship with humanity through photography:
“It’s been a long journey, but it started way, way back when I was actually a teenager and fell in love with the camera. And something happened that I really didn’t expect, and that is, I also fell in love with people in a way I never had before,” said Bacon. “My fascination with photography as an art form switched from, maybe, typical things like sunrise, sunsets, mountains, oceans, that type of thing, and went to what I feel like is the most magnificent creation of all, and that’s every single person that walks this earth. And that extends all the way to those that don’t just happen to have the four walls – the homeless.”
“It got to a point where there was a homeless organization in my local area, Springfield, Missouri…. They asked if we could do a project. The concept for the project was to get very intimate, very personal portraits – that’s pretty much head and shoulders – in the studio. Nothing on the stereotypical side that we typically see, which would be a person on the street,” said Bacon. “So we started out with the idea, ‘Let’s maybe photograph four or five, maybe six. Let’s get their stories, and we’ll call it a day.’ That happened. And definitely, something happened that day that I did not expect…. They left the studio, they went back to the street, and they told all their friends about how special the experience was, being photographed and sharing their story.”
“I had pretty much a continuous flow of homeless that would come in and ask, ‘Can I share my story? Would you be open to taking my picture?’ That has been going on for years. And now, in total, I have photographed maybe around two hundred, and the exhibit is massive.”
On the real humans that live in our cities without shelter:
“Some of my most favorite people are homeless,” said Bacon. “Number one, they’re interesting. They do have stories that are raw and real. And I find that from getting to know so many, that the relationship is very much down to the fundamental, and that is, ‘Here I am. Here you are, and let’s connect at that level.’ A lot of the things we get engrossed in, in this world that actually don’t mean, really, too much, for them, that’s not even on their radar currently. They just want to connect with somebody and get to know them.”
“On that very first day – I will never forget it – about three or four in, in walks a gentleman. His street name is Caveman…. I remember so distinctly for years, walking the downtown area of Springfield… whenever I would see Caveman, I would make a beeline for the other side of the street,” Bacon recalled. “In he walks the very first day, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, what did I get myself into?’ ….But literally, within twenty or thirty seconds, I actually felt like, ‘Man, I actually love this person. He is awesome.’ He’s funny, he’s endearing, he’s very caring, and for me, that set the trend for the entire project that very first day.”
Curator Beck’s experience bringing Bacon’s portraits to her gallery:
“We just fell in love with not only Randy’s photography but also his mission and his approach to this. It wasn’t just about capturing an interesting photograph. The fact that there are these stories that accompany each piece that really bring out the personality and the humanity in each of these people – we were so moved by that.”
“We added a video component, which was really special and really added that many more voices to the conversation, and did that much more connecting of Randy’s subjects with our guests,” said Beck.
“Installing the exhibition was, I would say, easy in some ways, because of how just beautifully cohesive, just from a formal standpoint, that Randy’s photographs are. They are these rich, saturate black and whites, for the most part, as well as these kind of muted photos that are in color, but everything just has this rawness, but also this absolute ethereal beauty to it” Beck said. “So it was easy to hang in that way, but emotionally, it connects you in a whole other way to these people when you are looking at their faces, over and over and over…. The staff was talking for weeks about how affected we were by this.”
Randy Bacon’s photography exhibit at Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, “The Road I Call Home,” is on display now through Dec. 19. More information is available at https://mariettacobbartmuseum.org/randy-bacon.