Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Portraits from Camden's Tent City

Images of the homeless before they moved on from Tent City.

Portraits from Camden’s Tent City

Most of the time when I photograph people for a newspaper portrait, I am trying to capture an aspect of their personality or profession. And because the homeless among us are often marginalized, whenever I've photographed them, I have especially tried to convey something of their individual character.

When I first entered the woods inside an exit ramp off I-676 on the edge of downtown Camden, I was struck by how similar it looked - except that it was in the middle of winter - to any of the campgrounds I'd ever encountered. There were posted rules, a "mayor" and "community outreach coordinator," boardwalk "sidewalks" and tents lined up in neat rows. As in any other community, each of the tents in the encampment was unique.

When talk began that Camden County officials wanted to shut the place down, I wanted to make a record of this individuality - and the similarity to our own lives. Whether we live in rowhouses, condos, apartments, or McMansions, we have possessions we treasure and ways we like to decorate for comfort as well as style. I wanted to make use of that commonality to make readers connect with the camp's citizens.

And now that a South Jersey faith-based nonprofit on has moved the 50 or so residents into a Mount Laurel hotel, I hope to revisit many of them over the next year and someday compare the photos from "Transitional Park" - as the residents themselves called it - to their new lives.

Click here, or on the photos above of Alfredo Gomez for more portraits and possessions. On the left is Alfredo outside his tent in April; right, he sits in the same spot after it was cleared on Thursday.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at tgralish@phillynews.com.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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