This week on our Instagram, Philly-based photojournalist and writer Caroline Gutman is sharing a handful of photos from a powerful and intimate photo project, The Shelter of Each Other. Caroline’s work often centers around stories discussing policy, gender and economic inequality and art and cultural innovation. To gear up for our free Visual Storytelling Masterclass with Caroline tomorrow, she’s giving us a sneak peek at one story very close to her heart (You can sign up for the masterclass here).
The Shelter of Each Other looks at the relationships between unhoused San Franciscans and their pets, showing the strength of their bond. The portraits aim to end the stigma surrounding homeless pet ownership and homelessness itself.
In the story below, Caroline details her experience photographing the unhoused community in San Francisco through the individuals and the pets she met along the way.
I moved to San Francisco in 2017 and began photographing the city’s anonymous unhoused residents as a personal project — I was shocked by how desensitized society had become to fellow citizens, where their visible anonymity reflected the lack of dignity afforded them. When the pandemic hit, my work evolved into documenting the crisis within a crisis, as the city relocated unhoused residents with no notice. In the midst of great hardship, I was inspired by the love, compassion and selflessness of unhoused pet owners for their animal companions.
For SF’s 8,000+ unhoused residents, survival is a full-time job. And for many, animal companions make a never-ending reality survivable. “Most homeless people love their animals more than themselves,” one pet owner told me. “A lot of times it’s what’s keeping us alive.
Couper and Maison. Shanna Couper (“Couper”), 47, holds her cat Maison d’Épaule (“Maison”), 2, outside their RV in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. They have lived in an RV for a couple years and are hopeful for the day they can move into a house. “I try to make it a little less hard for people out here,” says Couper, who provides EMT services to the homeless community. “I don’t want to give up and I try to make things better for the next person behind me.”
Anshar and Brownie. Anshar Robinson, 50, holds Brownie, 6, outside their tent in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. Anshar was packing his belongings while holding Brownie, preparing to move into a hotel as part of the City’s delayed relocation program during the pandemic.
Anthony and Charm. Anthony Williams, 36, holds Charm, 8 months, near their encampment in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. He’s my service animal,” says Anthony, whose daughter named him Charm. “He licks me a lot.”
Leanna “LeeLee” Brooks, 35, holds her rabbit Neo, 10 months, near their tent in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. LeeLee gave Neo the nickname Rowdy since “he squeaks a little,” says LeeLee. Most evenings she takes him to a grassy area outside the library to run around on a leash.
Ben and Mousse. Ben Campofreda, 38, holds Pamplemousse “Moose” outside their tent in San Francisco. Ben, who used to be a professional snowboarder, grew up with dogs. He had wanted a dog for a while and adopted Moose after living on the streets for two years.
During the pandemic last summer, as I watched a crisis within a crisis unfold, I wanted to make images that showed the humanity of some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. “Everybody forgot about us for almost two months,” someone told me.
Being unhoused shouldn’t define a person or their capacity for love, and my hope is this project inspires a little more compassion for one another.
Join us tomorrow for Caroline’s Visual Storytelling Masterclass
Want to take your own visual storytelling to the next level? Sign up for our free webinar and tune in tomorrow, March 12 at 12pm ET! Caroline will discuss the core elements of successful visual storytelling, strategies for bringing emotion, variety and narrative structures into your work, and how to use your own personal experiences to tell more compelling stories.
All photos by Caroline Gutman.