“I remember the very first time, I was very nervous. And after that, I realized it’s not really what I was thinking,” Leah Denbok told CBC about starting her series of photos on the homeless. “It’s really just like photographing any other person because they’re no different than we are.”
Leah has captured around 70 photos of homeless people so far. Forty of them, with their accompanying stories, will be featured in Leah’s book called ‘Nowhere to Call Home.’ It will be released in the fall. All of the proceeds from Leah’s book will go to the Barrie Bayside Mission Centre.
About three years ago, the 17-year-old photographer began taking pictures of homeless populations with the help of her dad, Tim Denbok. They pay their models $10. Tim says he thinks they got the idea for this series after coming across British photographer Lee Jeffries’ work. But he also thinks Leah was greatly influenced by her mom’s childhood story.
Leah’s mom, Sara Denbok, was found by a police officer in the streets of Kolkata, India, when she was 3 years old. She was taken to Mother Teresa’s orphanage, where she lived for two years before being adopted by Eldon and Audrey Bell from Stayner, Ont.
“I’ve known that my whole life,” Leah said about her mom’s childhood, “And just knowing that my own blood was in that situation… it’s a very personal matter.”
She hopes that her book will shine a light on the issue of homelessness, but also humanize the homeless population.
“No longer do I walk on the street and question why that person is in that position, or think anything badly about that individual. Now I see them as like, a friend, or pass by with kind words, often ask them how they are, because really that could have been me,” the teen said.
In Canada, at least 235,000 people experience homelessness in a year, and 35,000 people experience this on any given night, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
“I hope that people around the world will see my photos one day and that they’ll be seen for years to come, and they won’t be forgotten,” Leah said. “And that it’ll make a big enough impact on people.”