Developing photos, trust

October 16, 2005|By ANDRM-I F. CHUNG | ANDRM-I F. CHUNG,SUN REPORTER

When I first got the assignment to document Iven Bailey and Gary Sells as they completed their senior year at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, I knew that it would be complicated.

Documentary work offers the rare chance to bring some real depth to the reporting, and the methodology is very different.

Over time I really was able to develop a detailed picture of who these young homeless men were. Once I had that bit of understanding, I could use it to inform the work.

I don't see my role as giving voice to the voiceless. I'm more of an amplifier. Gary and Iven already had voices; my job was to see to it that what they were saying was heard. In order to do this I had to listen carefully to them and keep myself out of their story.

Keeping myself out of the story had its dark side.

They were immediately likable, and after getting to know them it was easy to root for them and painful to not become personally involved. With their situation so tenuous, it's heartbreaking to not offer help when they needed it. Reporter Liz Bowie and I explained to them that we were there to observe, and we couldn't give them money, food, rides or any other assistance. They understood that if we did that, we would no longer be telling their stories, and they agreed to the arrangement, but it was sometimes a small comfort.

I remember one morning, I met Iven before school, and he bought himself a breakfast that consisted of a few small bags of chips and a soda. I knew the only other meal he would eat that day was the free lunch at school, and it really bothered me that this boy was constantly hungry and I couldn't buy him a proper breakfast. When I spent time with either of them, I wouldn't eat because of this. They never knew it, but I always had an empty stomach when I was with them because I couldn't bear to be fed when they were hungry.

The work is rewarding, but the real beauty is in what I received from them. I'm glad that their story ended well, and they showed me what it means to persevere through adversity. It makes it difficult to make assumptions about the people I meet, because I've been taught that both hardship and success come in many flavors. Iven and Gary have touched me, and I will never be the same person I was before I met them.

andre.chung@baltsun.com

To see additional photos and stories on the homeless students, go to baltimoresun.com.

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