Working closely with members of Austin’s homeless community inspired musician and social work student Morgan Grace to look at the concept of “home” in a new way. What is tangible for some is more fluid and uncertain for others, something that many homeless individuals can attest to. Just because houseless folk don’t have traditional possessions to claim doesn’t mean their stories aren’t deserving of being told, which is why Grace created Heart Is Where the Home Is.
Heart Is Where the Home Is is a photography project that aims to give agency to homeless individuals, and one that explores the concept of “home” by capturing images that defy traditional notions of what “home” actually is. After learning about one professional photographer’s initiative to create portraits for houseless families, Grace pondered what might happen if people without traditional homes were given the chance to capture what their environment looked like.
Explains Grace, “I wanted to see the city of Austin through the eyes of the homeless community, and explore the notion of “home” outside the structural definition,” of how she conceived the project. Heart Is Where the Home Is “aims to empower members of the homeless community through creative photography that depicts their day-to-day experiences,” she says. “We handed out cameras to [people] who are currently without houses. They took pictures that captured what the concept of ‘home’ means to them.”
Grace details how she and her small team provided disposable cameras to willing volunteers, and gave them a week to photograph their personal environment before the film was collected and developed. The images that Heart Is Where the Home Is volunteers captured are raw, inspiring, and provide a remarkable lens into many different manifestations of homelessness. Grace explains, “All of the images were filled with smiling faces and beautiful Austin scenery. One of the photographers mentioned he has a knack for spotting heart shapes in any environment. He told me he’s seen them everywhere for years. I’m sure you can imagine [what] particular shape peppered his camera roll,” of the revealing, sometimes surprising photographs.
“The most powerful lesson I learned from this project from conception to execution is the gift of seeing through the eyes of another,” says Grace. “There are many unfortunate stigmas surrounding the homeless community, and I believe this project brings these issues to light. My main mission in this endeavor was to bring dignity and empowerment to the homeless community.”
Grace also explains how many of the volunteers responded positively to the project. She says, “Based on their collective experiences, they seemed to really enjoy waking up every morning with the goal of finding meaningful places and people to freeze on film. One volunteer said, ‘It made me happy to start my day with that camera in my hand and know that I was a part of something important.’”
Grace plans on making Heart Is Where the Home Is into an annual project, with the first exhibition of photographs going on display starting April 4th at Austin’s Space12 Gallery. Learn more about how Morgan Grace has helped empower her local homeless community, and used art to de-stigmatize what it means to be homeless in America on the project’s Kickstarter Campaign page.