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These homeless and at-risk youths got 50 disposable cameras. What did they capture?

What they see: a photo gallery by homeless youth in Bellingham

Photos by homeless youth taken in Bellingham for a photography project for Northwest Youth Services.
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Photos by homeless youth taken in Bellingham for a photography project for Northwest Youth Services.

When he was in the military, Daniel Liddicoet realized that photography was a powerful tool for expression.

It was instinctual and easy to access, said Liddicoet, who served as an active-duty photojournalist in the Air Force for four years. In his current job as the street outreach specialist with the nonprofit Northwest Youth Services, he wanted to share that power with at-risk, runaway and homeless youths.

“A lot of youths – kids – don’t really have the resources to go out and make art,” he said. “They usually don’t have the audience, either.”

So Liddicoet launched what he described as a dream project and handed out 50 disposable cameras to 50 youths to capture and document their experiences. In June and July, they took photos that showed a slice of their lives.

Twenty cameras were returned, and the film was developed for a fall photography exhibit of more than 20 pictures in the cafeteria of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. They were sold to raise money for Northwest Youth Services.

“It gives you a sense of what daily life is like,” the 27-year-old Liddicoet said, adding that it isn’t always about living at the shelter or in camps.

Most of the photographers were 18 to 24 years old.

Northwest Youth Services helps people ages 13 to 24 in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Currently, it is providing housing for 69 youths in Whatcom County, with more than 160 waiting to get into housing.

Liddicoet, who taught the youths about photo composition, said the exhibit gave the larger community a chance to see the perspective of people they may not interact with.

A few of the photographers spoke to The Bellingham Herald about their shots and what they hope viewers experience.

A monkey, a banana and a T. rex ...

Tyson Mitchell, 22, took a whimsical photo of some unusual characters in Bellingham.

“I was hanging out downtown. I see this group of people walking by. I see a person dressed in a banana suit, a person dressed as a T. rex and a monkey,” Mitchell said. “That had to be my shot because no one else was going to see that.

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Tyson Mitchell took a photo of people dressed in costumes in downtown Bellingham for a photography project for Northwest Youth Services. Tyson Mitchell Courtesy to The Ballingham Herald

“That was kind of funny. (I) couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass because the only situation where I’d ever see that again would be like at Comic-Con, or something along those lines. So seeing it right next to the downtown bus station was too much, it was too easy.”

What do you hope the audience sees?

“I hope they get the impression that that’s kind of how Bellingham is. It’s just kind of random and unusual and fun and more lighthearted than other cities.”

Capturing life, out there

The photo by 24-year-old Ashley Winter is a tightly composed snapshot of life.

“It was just a casual day. I was taking the camera with me everywhere, trying to find an interesting shot, just something that seemed worth taking a picture of,” Winter said.

“I was hanging out with a couple of people I knew. What’s important about that photo is that it shows just kind of the everyday life of people that were in my circumstances. There’s a lot of photos out there that are super happy and show a more idealized life but this, this photo isn’t particularly depressing but it still shows the realities of the kind of life we live in. That’s what I feel is important about it.”

What about the photo shows the realities?

“People living in a tent. People with all their backpacks full of stuff, even trash around because we don’t have garbage cans that we can take it all to, just the simple reality of it all.”

What do you hope the viewer takes away from that photo?

“They might feel disgusted. They might feel pity. They might feel judgment.

“Pity is the closest to what they should be feeling. But what they should actually be feeling is empathy and anger, not at us but at the world that this is the kind of situation that so many people are in. This should not be reality because humans are social creatures. We’re supposed to take care of one another.

“Homeless people are definitely a group of people that are rarely given a voice in the art world. Art, in general, should be diverse.”

A friend, her song

The photo 24-year-old Jonah Laugharn took showed his friend singing “No One” by Alicia Keys.

“All throughout the day I had been traveling around. I basically spent one whole day on the project, just looking for things downtown and around the city. She was singing these songs downtown,” he said. “She just lets her soul out.”

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Jonah Laugharn took this photo of a friend singing in downtown Bellingham for a photography project for Northwest Youth Services. Jonah Laugharn Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“You ought to hear her sing versus seeing her sing. It’s wonderful to hear her sing. It reminds me of Aretha Franklin mixed with Alicia Keys. She was so full of joy that day. She’s a bundle of love. She’s pure love.”

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your photo?

“I want there to be recognition. I want there to be respect. I want there to be understanding.

“Recognition being that these are just people. These are literally just kids wandering around the streets who just need places to go. Respect – treat people like you want to be treated. Everybody is just like you. They’re no different. We all wear these same shoes. We all walk these same roads. If you don’t understand, then you will be ignorant and you will be judgmental. From least to highest, we’re all people.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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