Since 2007 I have been working on The Urban Cave, a story of the resilience and humanity of “homeless” people living on the fringe of conventional society, a story about a group of individuals and the spectrum of their lives, rather than deprivation.

The series of 35mm digital prints comes from time spent on the street with these men and women who are not always viewed with sympathy, but who have accepted my company, agreeing to cooperate so that I can tell their story. Sometimes they just tell me to follow them and I wait months for things to occur spontaneously, for trust to develop so that I can go deeper. I never know what will happen or who will be there. I always shoot in a way that conveys respect and shows contrast with light and shadow. The images are my response to the beauty of both place and people, their dignity and determination in long-term homelessness. Most of the people now have housing or will soon be granted their own apartments, often through intervention by the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS), a non-governmental organization.


Lisa and Chuck have been living together in the Amtrak tunnel for more than seven years and of all the men and women I have met, Lisa has been on the street the longest. “After a while when people live like this it gets to be OK. That scares me more than anything. How can living like this ever be OK?” Lisa is adamant: she wants out. She does not want to die on the streets.

“Country” runs a short, dead-end street called the Bat Cave. At all hours of day and night, people come and go in the shadows. The faces change. Some leave for treatment, jail, family, and now for housing. Others just leave. Many return. According to Snow White, it is a safe place for women seeking refuge. Despite the hardships and the uncertainties of his life, Country stays because of “the beauty of it. I love the street.”

Willy lives in a cardboard box on 34th street just down from Amtrak Railroad’s Penn Station. He used to live under Track 13 but was “evicted” from the rails after 9/11. Willy is only comfortable sleeping in a box; he can hear the trains passing under the street.

Fragile and resilient, tragic and beautiful, self-destructive yet survivors, these homeless men and women are people, just as we are. They are a part of us, yet remain apart from us. Nothing is simple in the shadows of the street.

“Don’t call me homeless” - Country

I have benefited greatly from the photographers and editors who have conducted classes and workshops at the International Center of Photography and the Eddie Adams Workshop, and from the constant support of colleagues in What We Saw, a collective of emerging photographers. Reference prints were made with the help of Matt McDonough. The Urban Cave is a collaboration, made possible through the generosity of the many men and women I have photographed and the countless others drifting by also willing to be involved. My thanks to all who love in darkness taking chances.

Andrea Star Reese

Andrea Star Reese is a 2010 Fellow in Photography from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Andrea Star Reese

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