Downtown U.S.A.: A Personal Journey With the Homeless

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-09-15
  • Publisher: Humane Exposures Pub
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With downTown U.S.A., the second in a trilogy of books on crucial social issues published by Humane Exposures Publishing, photojournalist Susan Madden Lankford takes her cameras onto the streets of downtown San Diego. Combining stunning images, a rich personal narrative, and a range of authentic voices from the streets, downTown U.S.A. paints a complex, thought-provoking portrait of a population at risk and sheds new light on the difficult issue of homeless-ness. In the early 1990s, Lankford rented an old San Diego jail for commercial photography. The homeless in the area, curious about the woman and her work, frequently watched from the sidelines. They began to befriend her, trust her intentions, and tell her about their world. The characters emerging from these pages are diverse and intriguing, forcing us to examine our misconceptions of the homeless as individuals to be avoided or ignored. Among them are twenty-something Jed, who sleeps in a cardboard wardrobe and guides Lankford through the city s underbelly; eighty-year-old Mrs. Walton, who lives in the midst of filth on a vacant lot she once owned; and Michael, whose present-day voice throws his former street life into stark re-lief. What shines through Lankford s work is a passion and tenacity that is rare in any form. In-sightful and empathetic, she never passes judgment on her subjects. Instead, she urges her reader to take a closer look at the at causes as well as the consequences of homelessness, to examine a system that offers no viable safety net for the denizens of our streets, and to seek solutions that will create a better future for society as a whole.

Author Biography

SUSAN MADDEN LANKFORD grew up in the Midwest and holds a B.S. degree from the University of Nebraska. The purchase of a secondhand Hasselblad drew her away from on envisioned career in medicine and into the world of Images. Lankford attended Ansel Adams' prestigious workshops in Yosemite and Carmel, and studied under such photographic masters as Richard Misrach, Paul Caponigro, and Ruth Bernhard. She took her lenses to wildlife habitats in the Arctic, the Yukon Territory, and the American Rockies. In California, she became sought after for her nontraditional portraits of children and families. Despite a thriving commercial business, Lankford felt compelled to focus her energy and her cameras on society's more vulnerable members. She became deeply aware of the cycles in the lives of America's disenfranchised-on and off drugs, in and out of jail, on and off the streets and the patterns of neglect and abuse that cycle through generations. Humane Exposures was founded to help turn public indifference to society's most broken and vulnerable populations into a humane awareness and response. Lankford's study of the homeless led to a new mission to follow her subjects behind bars. Granted access to a Son Diego women's detention center, she began shooting within its walls, gaining the trust of the inmates and capturing the authentic personalities that emerged from the shock-value of angry words. Her taped conversations and growing portfolio of striking photographs become the prizewinning MAGGOTS IN MY SWEET POTATOES, an in-depth and illuminating look at the lives of incarcerated women. With the publication of downTown U.SA, Lankford will turn to the final volume of the Humane Exposures trilogy, BORN, NOT RAISED, exploring the troubled psyches of young people serving time in juvenile hall. The goal of these powerful books is to trigger public awareness of the needs and challenges of at-risk members of our society, and to help break the cycle of homelessness, incarceration, and abuse.

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