“Why do they do that? Why don’t they just go to a shelter?” she said, rolling her eyes.
That’s the reaction photographer Virginia Becker had every time she’d see a blue tarp on the side of the road, signaling ‘homeless people ahead.’ And living in California, the bluest of blue tarp states, she was rolling her eyes often.
So when she came across one homeless woman who wasn’t very photogenic, fireworks were about to go off.
A Homeless Woman With a Tough Story
With how her life was going, the last thing Sophia Ortiz wanted was her picture taken.
“I didn’t want to look in the mirror to put on makeup,” she told CBS News. “I really didn’t feel like I mattered anymore.”
Losing her home when her mother died, Ortiz was forced back into an abusive relationship to keep a roof over her head. With time, she slept on the street and took shelter in transit stations.
It was during that time that her paths crossed with a camera-toting Becker. Only this time instead of turning her cheek, Becker opened her arms to Ortiz.
That’s because Becker was a new woman with a new mission. She’d joined the Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit that provides homeless people with resources to get them off the streets.
It was through volunteering that she saw the homeless through a whole different lens. While lending a hand, she’d take pictures to humanize them.
She didn’t know it at the time, but when Becker snapped Ortiz’s picture, she was capturing history.
A Photographer’s Life-Changing Picture
When Becker not only stopped but offered to take Ortiz’s picture, it was a life-changing success.
“That’s what happens with pictures. I didn’t see, I didn’t have self-worth until I started getting these pictures,” she said.
“I see pride, when I see that picture I see pride.”
With renewed motivation, Ortiz landed a job and an apartment within months of connecting with Becker and the Downtown Streets Team. By doing so, she is one of their fastest graduates to this day.
Once hidden, she now readily smiles for the camera.
How a Photographer Reminds Us That Each Life Is a Unique Picture
Now looking back on her life’s negatives, Ortiz sees only blessings now.
“The worst time in my life ended up being the best time of my life because I got my self-worth through me,” she said.
Meanwhile, Becker said that her experiences have forever changed her point of view.
“I wonder how many people can be really honest with themselves and say, ‘I see everybody exactly the same,” Becker said. “I couldn’t have said that before, but I can now.”
She’s since taken over 5,000 pictures of the homeless through her Blue Tarp Project. Her work has been featured at the MLK Library in San Jose. Who knows how many more life she’ll change?
It’s really easy to get tunnel vision in life, in fact, it’s built into our brains. Per TIME, a study showed that our brains make judgments about people before we even know what they look like.
Sometimes, like Becker, you have to stop and adjust your focus to really appreciate the human in front of you.
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