What does empowerment look like?
For photographers, photo essays and documentary photographs are formats through which to evoke emotion, often while portraying the essential truth of an idea. Perhaps that idea may be an abstract concept, such as empowerment of those who refuse to be marginalized. Perhaps the concept breathes itself into living form through action, texture, light and shadows.
For the photographer, the ability to bear witness to such truths is the heart of a journey. And often, it is a journey that leaves its mark on both the viewers of the final photographs - and the artist himself or herself.
Photographer Clint Thayer was honored to participate in a photography exhibit titled Stories - How Nonprofits Shape Madison. Eight photographers created photo essays during the months of July and August, 2011 to portray the work of over 30 nonprofit organizations in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Thayer concentrated on the subjects of Hunger and Homelessness, working with Porchlight Products and the Briarpatch Runaway & Homeless Youth Program.
All of the photo essays will be displayed at Absolutely Art, 2322 Atwood Ave., from August 3-30. An opening reception will be held on Friday, August 5 from 5-9 pm.
The first organization, Porchlight Products, focuses on creating gourmet jams, jellies, and sauces from locally-grown produce in a commercial kitchen. The hands that make these products belong to individuals who were formerly homeless, and who often face physical or mental challenges. The products are sold to cafes, restaurants, and specialty shops and provide revenue to support the broader mission of Porchlight, Inc., which provides emergency shelter, food, counseling, and employment services to over 8,000 people in Dane County each year.
To describe the work of Porchlight Products in more detail, Kitchen Programs Manager Todd Dennis responded to questions by Focal Flame Photography writer Robyn Perrin.
Focal Flame Photography: In your own words, could you tell a little about Porchlight Products and its mission?
Todd Dennis: Porchlight Products takes local produce items and makes high quality canned and preserved items from them. To make these items we employ formerly homeless disabled adults using the kitchen at our main Porchlight facility. The mission of Porchlight Products is to empower local producers, who supply us with ingredients, and our employees. who produce the artisan products while gaining job skills and a sense of purpose.
FFP: What do you find to be most challenging about the work at Porchlight Products? Most satisfying? Most surprising?
TD: The most challenging thing at Porchlight is keeping things moving forward when the weather doesn’t always help our farmers and the inevitable delays that are caused from this. The most satisfying aspect of working at Porchlight Products is seeing the improvement in people’s lives and the joy that their work brings to them. I have found that tasting some of the items that we make to be most surprising. When I first tasted the Curtido, I couldn’t believe how good it was.
FFP: If there was one thing you wish the public understood better about homelessness in Madison, what would it be?
TD: I would want the public to understand how easy it is to end up homeless but how hard it is to get out of that situation. Just think about something as simple as applying for a job. You need to provide a mailing address, a phone number, and references; in addition to work experience. For someone who ends up homeless, they probably have at least one gap where they were not employed. Most employers would question them on this and I would definitely say that there is a stigma associated with the answer that would be given; embarrassment from the person who was homeless, and discrimination from the potential employer. Porchlight seeks to empower individuals to conquer these and other barriers that could prevent them from escaping homelessness.
Focal Flame Photography is honored to document the work of Porchlight Products and its staff, volunteers, and members. Please support all the photographers who took part in the Madison Nonprofit Day photography exhibit, and participate in the many offerings of Madison Nonprofit Day - an informative, inspiring series of presentations designed to help nonprofits and their supporters make the world a better place.