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Finding Hope in Shadows

 Megaphone (Canada) 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) “We wanted people to represent the theme in any way that was meaningful for them and we got back some beautiful photographs of people taking care of one another, which I thought was really touching,” says Carolyn Wong, project coordinator for the Hope in Shadows photography competition. “We also saw some really joyful photographs that were light-hearted and I like seeing that kind of spirit.” Now in its seventh year, the Hope in Shadows photography contest truly is a pillar of the Downtown Eastside community in Vancouver, Canada. Each June, hundreds of Downtown Eastsiders line up to get their black-and-white disposable cameras. They then have three days to take photos throughout the neighbourhood of whatever inspires them. Amy Juschka reports how a photography contest is helping the homeless. (900 words) - Amy Juschka

Megaphone

Courtesy of Megaphone

When Steven Mayes spotted Adam, Tanya and their cousin David walking in the Downtown Eastside with their grandmother, he knew it was a moment he had to capture.  "They're kids of a friend of mine and as soon as I saw them I stopped and asked if I could take their picture," he says.

Mayes' instincts paid off. With one click of his disposable camera, Mayes snapped the Hope in Shadows calendar's winning photo. Entitled "Daphne's Grandchildren", the photo of the three youngsters-who are depicted standing arm-in-arm, grinning back at him mischievously- will grace the cover of the 2010 calendar.

"The kids were happy because I gave them some toys," says the 60-year-old Mayes. "Even I can't say why I took the photo," he says. "I just get an idea in my head and go with it." Perhaps Mayes was drawn to the children because he has 13 of his own. "I've been busy over my life," he says smiling.

Born in Saskatoon, Mayes moved to Vancouver to live with his sister when he was a teenager. His dad worked on the rails so Mayes could travel for free by train.  "I could go anywhere I wanted with my rail pass," he says. "I loved it-going through the mountains I used to sketch the scenery as a kid."

Mayes has worked in the trades his whole life-"Carpentry, electrical, plumbing, painting, anything to fix a house, I can do all that," he says-but his first love has always been art. Whether it's carving vegetables into miniature sculptures, painting murals on the walls of a friend's apartment, sketching people he sees in the neighbourhood or taking photographs for the annual Hope in Shadows photography contest, Mayes can usually be found doing something creative. "The things I see, I remember," he says. "I always try to remember people's faces so I can sketch them."

Mayes has participated in the Hope in Shadows photography contest since it launched in 2003. "I like it," he says. "It's fun for me because it gets my mind off of everything else.  "And it's for a really good cause-it's for us, the Downtown Eastside."

A past contest winner, Mayes has two photos in this year's calendar-September's "Daphne's Grandchildren" and January's "Alkina at the Pow-wow", a striking portrait of Alkina Johnston kneeling in front of a mural by aboriginal artist Jerry Whitehead.

Now in its seventh year, the Hope in Shadows photography contest truly is a pillar of the Downtown Eastside community in Vancouver, Canada. Each June, hundreds of Downtown Eastsiders line up to get their black-and-white disposable cameras. They then have three days to take photos throughout the neighbourhood of whatever inspires them.

A panel of photographers, designers and artists narrow down the thousands of submitted photographs to just 40, taking into account everything from technical quality to artistic merit to emotional impact, when selecting the winners.

Those top 40 photographs are then displayed throughout the neighbourhood. The community votes on their favourites and 13 winners are selected for the calendar, which is sold on the streets of Vancouver by homeless and low-income vendors.

This year's theme was 'The Heart of My Community'. "We wanted people to represent the theme in any way that was meaningful for them and we got back some beautiful photographs of people taking care of one another, which I thought was really touching," says Carolyn Wong, Hope in Shadows project coordinator. "We also saw some really joyful photographs that were light-hearted and I like seeing that kind of spirit."

Momentum for the contest grows each year, and so do calendar sales, which are a source of much needed income for people in the Downtown Eastside. Last year, 13,000 calendars were sold-10,000 of them by homeless and low-income vendors. This year, Hope in Shadows is printing 16,000 carbon-neutral calendars.

"Of the hundreds of people we train each year to sell the calendar, there's always a group of people who find that it's something that they can work with and that works for them," says Wong. "They are able to gain economic self-reliance."

More than a photography contest and employment initiative, Hope in Shadows also gives Downtown Eastside residents a chance to portray the neighbourhood through their own eyes.

"The calendar is a way to move beyond a lot of the stereotypes that exist when people think about this community," says Wong. "For people who might not have a lot of engagement with the Downtown Eastside, they're going to see an authenticity that perhaps they aren't familiar with."

For Downtown Eastside residents like Mayes, the contest is a way to showcase their creativity.  "Steven is incredibly talented," says Wong. "His winning photo captured the spirit that I think exists sometimes in families and amongst young kids that roll with one another."

For Mayes, winning couldn't have come at a better time, as the $500 in prize money will allow him to get a plane ticket back to Saskatchewan. "I can visit my mother," he says, "She had a stroke and winning means the chance to go and see her."

He'll also sell the calendar if he's feeling well enough. "I really like selling the calendar because it gives me something to do," says Mayes, who personally signs each calendar.

"I like everything about [Hope in Shadows]-the photos, the people and I've done it each year hoping to win someday."

 

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