PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL – Aaron Andersen spent years taking photos of the homeless in Portland and Longview. A small gallery of his work will be on display at Collective Kitchen in Hillsboro for the next two weeks.
Aaron Andersen wants you to get uncomfortable.
The Hillsboro photographer has spent years documenting the lives of homeless men and women in Portland and Washington, shining a light on a population of people he says often go unnoticed.
He calls his subjects The Beautiful People. A gallery of Andersen’s photos are currently on display at The Collective Kitchen, 173 NE 3rd Avenue, in Downtown Hillsboro. The exhibit opened August 28 and runs through September 7.
“These are people who are normally walked by and not looked at,” Andersen said. “People avoid them without giving them the time of day. I was like that, too.”
Andersen started photographing the homeless experience years ago, while volunteering with local charitable organizations. He was there to photograph the organizations’ efforts to distribute food and other items to people on the street, but soon found himself drawn to photographing people living in homelessness instead.
“It didn’t hit me until I was editing the photos later,” Andersen said. “But I had taken a photograph of one man; I was looking at him on my computer screen and realized that was the first time I’d actually looked him in the eye. It totally changed me.”
Andersen began documenting the lives of homeless residents in his hometown of Longview, Washington and in downtown Portland. Over the course of three years, Andersen documented the lives of “forgotten people,” which he says changed the way he experiences his photography.
“I started seeing things differently,” he said. “I want to give the general public to have that same experience I had.”
In front of each of the 15 photographs is a stool, where attendees can sit.
“I want them to look them in the eye,” he said. “It was deep, special and life changing. “When you are capturing the moment, you’re capturing somebody’s spirit.”
The photographs are presented without names or biographical information of the subjects. Andersen said he didn’t want to push a political agenda, and wanted the images to stand on their own for people.
The exhibit will be on display during Hillsboro’s First Tuesday Art Walk on September 3, and during Collective Kitchen’s Friday Night Bites events, which brings food carts to Downtown each week. Both events are known to draw crowds, and Andersen hopes his art will resonate with people.
“Sometimes, a special person or unique person will change your life forever without ever saying a word or even telling you their name,” Andersen said. “They will impact your heart and your thoughts for the rest of your life.”
Admission to the gallery is free, but a suggestion donation of $5 is encouraged. Proceeds from the show will go to Open Door HousingWorks, a Hillsboro nonprofit homeless center which offers education and life skills training.
“I just wish people would take a second to realize we’re similar,” Andersen said. “We’re all human. We’re all the same. I want people to feel something.”