Sarah Ridgway had no idea what she would find when she developed the film contained in seven disposable cameras she picked up at Interfaith Sanctuary. When the pictures were processed, she saw deep purple sunsets and geese flying overhead. There was a photo of the Boise Train Depot and another of the Boise River, taken from the middle of Friendship Bridge near Boise State University.
At a glance, there was no way to tell who snapped the pictures—they could have been shot by a college student, a commuter, a person walking his or her dog. Or, a person without a home.
The photo of the Boise River was taken by Troy.
- Sarah Ridgway
- The photo Troy took of the Boise River from Friendship Bridge is a photo that's been taken by Boise residents thousands of times.
Troy has a weathered face and thick beard that has grown to reach his chest. He struggles to find work because of his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. He has a young boy living in Seattle.
"I asked him during our interview, if he could be anywhere, where would he be, and he said wherever his son is," Ridgway said. "He said [visiting his son] is 'more important than going to Paris or London or Amsterdam or New York. That's my goal in life. That's my little boy.'"
Ridgway, 17, met Troy in late 2015, when she began putting together her Idaho Virtual Academy senior project—"Through Our Eyes"—which included giving cameras to seven people staying at Interfaith and asking them to document their lives.
The participants had a week with the cameras and, at the end, Ridgway interviewed each of them.
"I told them to photograph things that resonated with them or moved them in some way, or made them feel inspired," Ridgway said. "I didn't know what to expect."
She edited the photos in Adobe Lightroom and compiled them in a glossy, hardcover book. Alongside the photos Ridgway incorporated a high-quality portrait of each participant against a black backdrop and wrote long passages taken from their interviews.
That was the most challenging part of the entire project, Ridgway said.
"I've always struggled with speaking with others," she said. "I struggle with anxiety and stuff, but this helped me a lot. It was therapeutic. I reflected back after and I was like, 'Wow, I talked to seven complete strangers for 20 minutes each and I got through it and I'm still alive and breathing.' I was surprised how easy it was to chat with them."
Ridgway picked Interfaith Sanctuary in an attempt to "humanize" the homeless community. Her project came together during the turbulence surrounding Cooper Court—a tent city that had popped up in an alley near Americana Boulevard that was broken up by Boise police in December after months of rising tension.
"A lot of people essentially view them as flaws in the system," Ridgway said. "I've heard people describe them as trash and that's something that really hurts my heart. They're working really hard. They're not lazy. They're not drug addicts. Troy was telling me that he's never tried drugs or drank, but he still has trouble finding work because of the stigma tied to the homeless community."
- Larry snapped this picture of Cooper Court in the last few days before the camp was disbanded by the Boise Police Department.
Some of the photos captured the dismantling of Cooper Court. One photo, taken by 25-year-old Briana, showed a group of protesters standing on the corner of Americana Boulevard and River Street, holding umbrellas and picket signs over their heads.
"Homelessness is Not a Crime," read one sign. The picture is black-and-white, dark and gritty, but the words stand out as a strong focal point in the middle of the image.
"Briana is a big advocate for human rights and the homeless community," Ridgway said. "She's very passionate about standing up for what she believes in. She was telling me how she was really moved by the protesters there, and happy that people were standing up for [the residents of Cooper Court]."
In her book, Ridgway explains Briana was kicked out of the house over a turbulent relationship with her stepfather and didn't have enough money to find her own housing. Now, she's staying at Interfaith and expecting a baby in May.
Other photos depicted the daily lives of the photographers. Sherry snapped a photo of one of her friends talking to a Boise police officer on a bike. The interaction looks friendly; both the woman in the picture and the officer are smiling as they talk.
"She was trying to show in this picture that there can be a positive connection [between law enforcement and the homeless community]," Ridgway said. "It's not always a battle."
Another common theme throughout the photos is nature.
- "When I'm upset about something, I go walking around nature ... because it calms me down so much. I love the sight of the sunset hitting the river at the end of the day,' Freya said.
That was especially important for a woman in her early 20s named Freya. She took pictures of trees and ducks, the river bank and the spindly branches of a willow tree.
"When I'm upset or something, I go walking around or sitting around nature," Freya is quoted in Ridgway's book. "I spent three hours one day walking around [Kathryn] Albertson Park because it just calms me down so much. ... I love the sight of the sunset hitting the river at the end of the day."
Freya moved to Boise from Dallas a few years ago and was shocked by the cold. She wound up homeless after losing her job and started hanging around people who used drugs. She told Ridgway she also began using but kicked the habit and now stays at Interfaith Sanctuary.
- Sarah Ridgway
- Freya moved from Dallas to Boise, but lost her job and ended up homeless. Now she stays at the Interfaith Sanctuary.
"She wants to study culinary arts," Ridgway said. "She loves cooking and the way food can become an art. Her dream is to go to Italy to study, then open her own restaurant and call it Denise's, after her grandmother. I'm really hoping she's able to do that someday."
One of Ridgway's favorite photos shows a large jigsaw puzzle of an ancient art gallery, put together save for one missing piece. The photo was taken by a former police officer named Samira.
According to Ridgway's book, Samira speaks 17 languages and has lived in India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and all over the United States. She worked for the federal government, then became a corrections officer and a warden. She especially liked working with troubled youth.
She was eventually attacked and beaten with a wooden board, which caused severe damage to her body and landed her in a wheelchair.
"When they went for my legs, they went for my career," Samira told Ridgway.
She lost her job due to budget cuts and ended up without a home. She said other people living on the street have not been accepting of her because of her past in law enforcement.
- Sarah Ridgway
- Samira used to have a career in law enforcement, but was attacked and beaten with a wooden board. She lost her job and eventually ended up living at the Interfaith Sanctuary.
Regardless, she strives to continue learning. She checks the stock market almost daily and spends her time at the Education Center in the Corpus Christi House. That's where she took the picture of the puzzle.
"She told me they've been looking for this one piece for five years and they haven't been able to finish the puzzle," Ridgway said.
Once she finished compiling her project, Ridgway didn't feel quite ready to let it go. She said she wants to create a larger book in the next year or so, with as many as 30 participants and a wider demographic—including those living at City Light Home for Women and the Boise Rescue Mission.
Ridgway also plans to start volunteering at Interfaith Sanctuary once she turns 18 in April. She'll attend Boise State University in the fall to double major in fine arts and photography. Her "ultimate dream" is to study abroad.
Overall, she said her passion will always remain in photography.
"Photography is such a simple art. Anyone can pick up a camera and just press a button to take a picture," Ridgway said. "Yet it's such an expressive form of art. It's personal. I love seeing other people's perspectives and how they approach their subjects."