In I AM NOT INVisible, Thilde Jensen’s social documentary photography authentically captures a homeless community in America. Over a period of 4-years Danish photographer, Thilde Jensen, set out across the US to create a document of this community excluded from mainstream society.
The resulting work is an authentic document of a community excluded from mainstream society. This exhibition is a part of the inaugural Bristol Photo Festival, a new biennial that celebrates the power and diversity of photography. The exhibition will be Jensen’s first in the UK and also the first time that the majority of the works from this project have been exhibited.
Jensen began the work that led to this project when in 2014, she met Reine and Lost, two homeless men in Syracuse, New York. Reine and Lost lived under a highway, and had survived three Upstate New York winters, huddled together on a small concrete ledge. Their openness in sharing their lives with Jensen drew her into a wider project, photographing in Gallup, New Mexico, Las Vegas, and New Orleans as well as Syracuse. The resulting photographs represent the social cost of a system valuing profit over human welfare — homelessness representing a tangible consequence of an ever-increasing chasm between rich and poor.
Jensen herself had spent two years living out of a tent in the woods after becoming sick with Environmental Illness. She had been living well and working hard but had not made enough money to cover health insurance and she had no American safety net to catch her. These years of illness and isolation became the subject of her first book, The Canaries.
“Though I had lived outside myself, the people I encountered in the street were there for reasons other than mine. I wanted the pictures to authentically show the often brutal reality of life in the streets of America. This meant learning a new way of making unposed photographs with my old medium format film camera, simply following and mirroring the people and their unfolding experiences. I spent many hours over weeks and months, gaining the trust of the homeless and understanding their struggles. I listened and I let the pictures come naturally. I tried to work from a place of extreme empathy instead of getting in the way of the people I was with.
“Most of the homeless people I met had life stories so full of trauma and neglect that I was surprised they had made it this far. An unkind world and a system not designed to help them succeed had deeply scarred many of them. They feel cast out, unwanted, invisible, forgotten. They endure constant harassment from cops, business owners, kids, or drunks throwing rocks or lighting them on fire as they sleep. Unsheltered, vulnerable to sexual assault and violence. Sleepless nights with drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Slowly, your reality stops making sense or becomes too painful to inhabit, and the thin veil that separates you from madness starts to slip.”
About the Author
Thilde Jensen was born in Denmark and moved to New York City in 1997. Six years later her life and career as a documentary and editorial photographer was cut short by a sudden development of severe Environmental Illness.
The Canaries, her series about Environmental Illness, has been published in The New York Times, FT Magazine, The Observer, Esquire Russia, Wired.com rawfile, Vision Magazine China, Business Insider, and Slate.com. The book of the series of work from this exhibition, The Unwanted was published in 2019. Jensen is a NYFA Fellowship and Light Work Grant recipient. In 2017 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete photographing for The Unwanted project. Her work has been exhibited in galleries internationally.
Thilde Jensen: I AM NOT INVisible
16 September – 19 December 2021
Martin Parr Foundation
Bristol – United Kingdom