Visual Arts

The I Have A Name Project Presents Photography at Phoenix's MonOrchid, Seeks Funding for Brian Boner Mural

He is the man with the cardboard sign. She is the woman with the blanket and bedroll. She pushes the shopping cart. He is sleeping in the shadow of the church.

We see them everyday. Yet, it's easy to forget one simple truth: They have names.

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The realization of the forgotten came to local artist Jon Linton when he volunteered at a local homeless shelter in September 2007. From there, he began to photograph homeless people on the streets of downtown Phoenix. Linton recalls the first person he photographed and what happened when he asked the man his name.

The man began to weep.

"He stated, 'You have no idea how long it has been since someone has cared to ask my name, we are like the 'American forgotten' out here'," Linton remembers in a book of his photography.

Since this first encounter, Linton has created the I Have A Name Project. This art and advocacy campaign seeks to "restore dignity, compassion and understanding for those less fortunate," the website's mission states.

"Being a long-time resident here, it just felt like we were bursting at the seams with homeless and I felt I needed to do something," Linton says.

Linton diligently documents the names and faces that make up Arizona's homeless landscape with his black-and-white photos accompanied only by the names of the subjects.

The photos have a quiet solidity and an air of survived desertion that stays in your gut. Their simplicity and feeling of aloneness grip on and make you really see that which you only offer a glance toward each day. Some subjects smile, some act for the camera, and some stare into the distance. In each case, the subject claims his or her identity and becomes more than just a face passed on the street.

Linton's work may give faces and names to the homeless. But more than that, the photos move beyond the situation to identify the subjects as real people.

Linton says that once he secured a photography exhibition in {9 The Gallery} for December 2013, he created a Facebook page to spread the word about the show. Through this page, the project gained attention across the United States and in 44 countries around the world.

Linton says that support from social media users has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I get messages from anyone from a woman in Juneau, Alaska to someone in Sydney, Australia that suggest that, 'You've changed the way I think about this situation, thank you,'" Linton says. "It's quite heartwarming and fulfilling."

"We get messages everyday and they are varied," Linton says. "Sometimes they are very difficult and other times they are very heartwarming and it gives me the impetus to keep spreading this message."

One of those difficult messages came from the mother of a homeless teen when her child's body was recently discovered in January. Summer Francis Smith, 18, had left home "to follow a boy" and had been listed as homeless by Washington police, according to an article in USA Today.

Smith's mother reached out to Linton through Facebook to spread Summer's story and to spread awareness of the fatality that pervades homeless populations across the world.

"Summer came into this world early and was taken far too soon. My daughter has a name. I don't want her life to be forgotten," Smith's mother wrote to Linton.

After receiving this news, Linton decided to dedicate his newest exhibition to Summer. He also began a campaign through for donations to help bring Summer's remains home for her family. Within a few weeks, the campaign raised over $3,200 and Summer's family is planning a "celebration of her life" in Las Vegas, according to the I Have A Name Facebook page.

"None of us should die absent," Linton says. "I can't imagine what it would be like to die poor, cold, alone and often times hungry."

It is stories like Summer's that drive Linton to continue raising awareness.

In Summer's memory, Linton brings new and classic photographs together for an exhibition in the Bokeh Gallery of MonOrchid. The exhibition, in partnership with the Shade Project, will be on display through the end of February 2015. Linton says there will be a lot of new photography and says he doesn't know if that's necessarily a good thing.

"It's not fun work," Linton says. "I'm not your average photographer taking photos of landscapes or pretty wedding photos. This is really an indictment against society's failures and oftentimes we believe it's easier to look away than to look at it because to look at it is to acknowledge that there are systematic short comings and what that means for our society."

The goal of the show is not only to spread I Have A Name's message to practice compassion, but also to raise funds for a public art display.

Over the past year Linton has been searching for a way to erect a mural in the heart of downtown Phoenix to remind people of the lives of the homeless.

He found a partner in MonOrchid owner Wayne Rainey. Rainey says he has known Linton for a long time before the current exhibition and one First Friday they discussed the possibility of the mural. Rainey decided the MonOrchid would be an ideal place to host the mural because of the building's inherent mission to support independent artists.

"This building is a place of hope and change," Rainey says. "As an artist myself I want to help foster that [hope] for both artists and for those with a message."

The mural will fill the north and west walls of the building and will be completed by local artist Brian Boner. The west wall will show a small child positioned atop a pillar pouring out a pitcher of birds that fly in circles and off into the distance.

The pillar will contain a quote from Mother Teresa: "At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.'"

"We're hoping this will be a quiet reminder of the lasting legacy we should all aspire to lead," Linton says.

The north wall will be painted and inscribed with the names of the thousands of homeless men, women, and children who have died while living on the streets.

"It's easy to just gloss over problems like this because we have our own things going on," Rainey says. "Having a place that can help serve a reminder of what we often forget is important to have."

While the development of the mural is moving along, there is still one hitch: funding. Through several means, the team has struggled to raise the necessary $15,000 to begin preparing the building and painting the murals. They are now hoping to secure corporate partners.

However, they are using grassroots work to raise money as well.

"Many major historical movements have started at this level, with just awareness," Rainey says. "This is an important step to take to get the message out there."

This work includes an event on Friday, February 13, in partnership with local community organization Pineapple Triangle. This group of young women brings together local artists and artisans for events where the artists can sell their wares while offering a portion of the total proceeds to a chosen charity. The proceeds from this event will go to funding the murals.

The event will be from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at MonOrchid with an entry fee of $5 or 5 canned goods or hygienic products. According to the Facebook event page, all of the entry proceeds will go toward the I Have A Name Project.

The main goal of the exhibition, the mural, and the overall campaign is to spread the overarching message of the I Have A Name Project: Practice compassion.

"We shouldn't have to be reminded of simple lapses in humanity, and in our fast-paced world we often forget the needs of others," Linton says. "This project is really about awareness and about changing the way we see the homeless and, more importantly, the way we don't see them."

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