We had the opportunity to tag along with Janette Mochnacz and her sidekick Alexa Schwartz on a couple trips to New York City as they spoke with several individuals who are currently homeless. Janette started Project Humanize as a way to de-stigmatize the issues of homelessness by telling their stories and humanizing them.
Project Humanize uses photojournalism, storytelling, care packages and activism to bring awareness to this universal issue.
The following is some highlights from our discussion with Janette and Alexa to learn a little more about what inspired them to take on this project and start their nonprofit.
Video Interview coming soon
SR: The definition for Humanize that you mention on your website talks about the process is to make something more humane or civilized. You talk about how people walk past them as if they were a "static piece of the city-scape". It seems that these by-passers need humanizing as well. With that, how has Photography humanized you?
JM: As a photographer, I get to meet all these amazing people and so I have always been an empathic person so it hasn't really changed me in that sense. My big goal is to help others humanize these individuals through photography and the process itself has changed how I look at these individuals as well. Photography has helped me bring these views to the world.
SR: Take us back to Sydney, Australia
JM: I was studying abroad and had a photojournalism project which consisted of going to one place every day for a week and photograph it. So I chose the train station because there's all this activity and buskers there. I met an individual I refer to as T who I developed a friendship with and made feel less of a stranger in this new city.
SR: Tell us about some of the individuals you met with this project.
JM: We have to go with Gerard. He was skeptical at first as someone spoke with him and shared his full name which made others find out about his situation.
The interesting thing about Gerard is that he had a job while he was homeless but during the winter time with no access to warmth it interfered with his work and was let go (for the time being)
SR: What I noticed with Gerard was that he was sitting on a blanket made of plastic bags that was given to him. He also recently had a trim from someone who was going around giving haircuts to the homeless. It was great to hear about these efforts. ....
Alexa, how did you get involved?
AS: Janette and I have known each other for a couple of years now. It happened by circumstance. Janette made a post about going to the city on facebook and asked if I would come along. We went together and when we left I was like "I needed this". Its something that changes your perception and makes you look at your own life different.
And then we had this conversation of doing it more and we decided to make it a nonprofit
SR: You guys talk about Mike who didn't want his photo taken. How do you go about getting people like Mike to open up more when they are guarded and share themselves in such a vulnerable state?
JM: Well Mike was the first person we spoke with so part of was just us not knowing how to go about it yet. We say "excuse me, do you mine if we speak to you for a second" if they say ok, we then go into what we are doing and that involves a story and a photo. Mike said the story was ok but the photo wasn't as he didn't want his family aware.
SR: In a situation like that, does it help utilizing different lenses such as a macro lens that can focus on details etc.
JM: It can, but when they are uncomfortable about having their photo taken, it creates an issue to still take out a camera and just shoot other things. Also if this happens, the police will actually stop you
SR: This is out of respect for the homeless as it is generally legally ok to take photos of strangers.
It seems that with photojournalism like this and street photography, you see alot of black and white photos. Why do you think that is?
JM: I think its more powerful. Its less distracting, especially in streets where there is just so much going on, black and white allows the viewer to focus on the areas you need them to.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about Janette Mochnacz and Project Humanize. If you are a photographer and find yourself inspired and wanting to do something similar, we would love to hear from you.
Project Humanize would love to have photographers in other areas where homelessness is a growing concern. Learn More to Volunteer
Stay tuned as continue to spotlight this project throughout August and check back as post photos from our time with Janette and Alexa.