Homelessness Graphic Collage

PrintI had a picture in my mind as to what this was supposed to be.  How does a person illustrate homelessness?  Do you show faces?  Are the subjects really homeless?  Are they just panhandlers? Are they just disabled?  How big is the problem?  I could ask questions all day.  Then there’s reality.  To embark on a project examining Seattle’s homeless problem, I had to go find homelessness.  It wasn’t hard.

The news broke of a shooting in a homeless camp, so I went up to Seattle with my camera.  Being a photojournalist, I don’t have a problem taking pictures of people, I’ve done it for 15 years.  This was different, though.  I wasn’t on a news assignment.  I wasn’t shooting this for work, I was discovering this for myself.  In the process I found out how little I know about Seattle, and about homelessness.  Where was this “Jungle” that Seattle officials were cleaning up, and evicting the residents?  Where are the tent cities?  It didn’t take long to find out.  A quick walk toward Pioneer Square was all I needed.  I took a path along the freeway, and the first thing I found was garbage…lots of garbage, and little orange caps to needles, and kid’s clothes, and high heels, and used condoms.  I kept walking and I found an encampment under a freeway, past a sign that read: “this area is not open to public use of any kind.”  I took some pictures and kept going.  I found a black couple sleeping under a bridge on Yessler Way…their kid was in the tent next to them.  I only saw a small hand inside.  I found where they had defecated on the sidewalk.  Little kids were playing just a few steps away.  I walked past the courthouse, with homeless people loitering by the bus stops.  I walked all the way to Pike Place before I found my first panhandler.  I took pictures of it all. And I can honestly say that I have never been so moved by something.  I have seen many things in my career, but when I got done taking these pictures, I felt like I had tapped into a world that I have been sheltered from, and that I had avoided.

This collage is just five pictures, and information from the recent homeless “One Night” count.  I decided to use an embossed black and white style, with the colors only hinted at.  I chose this style to make people look closely to see the faces, to see the detail that is hard to make out.  I chose a gritty text style, so it wasn’t neat and pretty.  The full color pictures would have just not have been as impactful.  These people are on the fringes of society.  I saw lawyers walking past them in $2,000 bespoke suits as if there was no one else there.  I plan on adding a few more terms to this, and to maybe stylize it a bit more, but I am happy with the current look.

6 responses to “Homelessness Graphic Collage”

  1. Immediately, I understand what you are trying to communicate. It’s clear, nuanced, and fully comprehensive of the topic. The facts in the background are apparent, but not too much so that they dominate the look and feel of the collage. Good color selection the lettering of the facts. The same goes for the title. Yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Advertisers (and fast food joints) use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with red text, or as an accent. Another positive is your design execution. It truly reflects a thorough understanding of design concepts. Now the areas that need improvement. I cannot determine what is in the upper right corner of the design. From the viewer’s perspective, this is frustrating. I keep looking in that area, hoping to find something but instead I leave frustrated. In addition, it seems disjointed from the other parts of the collage. The other area that needs improvement is the people sleeping in the lower left hand corner. I think they are people sleeping??? Again, I had to look hard to figure out what I was seeing. I recommend adjusting the image so that it’s clearer, similar to the man in the upper left. Critique by Dave Johnson


  2. Wow, at first glance the background image is impressive. The background looks almost like you somehow turned the images into tin foil or a metallic mold of your images. I like the darker text within the photo as well. It does a nice job communicating the sort of unspoken world that can be homelessness. The text is also powerful, such as citing over 2,000 children.

    The main text is a bright yellowish color, which I think might clash a little with your message illustrating homelessness. The brightness to me suggests a happy demeanor, however the rest of your collage says the exact opposite. I don’t think you need a dark gray, but I think a color with ales peppy attitude would serve you well.

    Although I said I am really impressed how the images look like tin foil or a metallic mold, I wonder if returning them closer to b/w photos and then dropping the opacity or covering them with a rough grainy layer over the top, and reducing the opacity of that layer so the photos begin to have an almost shadowy look would do for you. A very unified look though, which I wouldn’t change much.


  3. I think this was a great idea for a collage subject. I’m glad that you chose a relevant topic and I think you did a great job of portraying the messages you were trying to get across. I like the theme that you appear to have developed. The background almost looks like a sidewalk, with the main headline resembling chalk. I also think the choice of yellow was a great choice, as it not only grabs your attention but also makes me think of the yellow caution tape that you often see when problems develop. One suggestion that I have is to make the words in black more readable. I think you have some strong statistics you’re trying to share, so there’s no need to had them into the background as much as you did. Another option would be be to to make the people in the photos pop out a little bit more. Since the people are really the story you’re trying to tell, it may be interesting if they more more in focus than the background. Those are just some of my thoughts. Overall, I think you did a great job!


  4. Good evening, Marcus!

    I find your topic to be very moving. I live in Seattle, work in Queen Anne, and drive through downtown on a daily basis. I see these scenes on a daily basis. The images you captured and your story of wandering through Seattle are very moving, but I wish I could see more detail.

    Since the embossed design makes the images look grayscale with a small amount of color, do you think you could get the same effect you’re looking for by editing the saturation? If you place an adjustment layer on the images and edited the saturation the image down to -75, I think it could help retain the detail of the images and your subjects, but keep the hint of color you’ve shown here.

    I would also amp up the contrast just a tiny bit between the facts you’ve placed on your image and the images in the background. I had a hard time reading the words in the spots where they overlap with a high detail portion of an image. I wouldn’t make them black as that could lose some of the visual unity between the images and the text and could also make the text overpower the images. However, slightly darkening your current font color could help with overall readability.


  5. I love feedback. To see how people interpret your interpretations is enlightening. To evoke disagreement and differing views on the same exact elements within my creation is, for me, part of being an effective communicator and artist. Many of the comments pointed to some of the things that I actually intended within the work. Others maybe hint at a subconscious element that I had in mind, like the image resembling a sidewalk. I intended for some of the images to be chaotic, and hard to discern…because the homeless often are. Is that a black couple sleeping in the photo? Yes. Were they hard to see in the dark place they were sleeping? Yes. Are they hard to see now? Also, yes. I will try to increase the visibility of a few things as mentioned, and I will also try to stylize a few other things, breaking up the cleanliness of the yellow text is something I’m trying to do effectively. I didn’t include a lot of information on how I did some of these things in Photoshop, but in reality, I did very little to the images. I will update my post to reflect all of the steps I used. One of the difficult things about using an embossed texture is that there needs to be enough edge and contrast definition in a picture to make it effective. One of the reasons the couple sleeping is so hard to see, is the fact that their dark skin, and dark hair in a dark place leaves very little contrast for facial features to be made out without blowing out other details. The tent city in the upper right corner was a jumbled mess in the original picture. I will try to make it a little clearer what it is. The best part of all of this is getting to play around with Photoshop in a more artistic manner than I usually can. I’ve never tried to do much pop art or stylization of my pictures, since I’m quite a realist. Another of my thought before going this route was to have just a bunch of silhouettes from the images I used, but this struck me as a better representation, because of the fascinating patterns and details in the images.


  6. The embossed black and white style gives these photos a really interesting effect. I would guess your pictures would already appear unified without this filter, but it really pulls them together.

    My one recommendation would be changing the font on the statistics so that they will be easier to read.

    -Katherine Higgins


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