Mary Lou Uttermohlen: Structure Out Of Chaos


Bather. Downtown Miami, Florida, 1993. © Mary Lou Uttermohlen

Mary Lou Uttermohlen showed me her prints at the portfolio reviews held by PhotoNOLA last year in her home town of New Orleans. She told me about the inception of her work with the homeless when in 1993 Miami began to address its growing problem, and how she continues to photograph homeless communities. Over in the UK recently, shops and blocks of flats began installing "anti-homeless spikes." Instead of attempting to address the root causes of homelessness, we continue to just keep moving people on, sweeping them under a concrete carpet.  

"I began to document the shantytowns in Florida in the 1990's when most villages were made of plywood and I was shooting on B&W film. The camps were self-segregated along common interests that included children, transvestites, prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, illegal immigrants and mental health issues.

Over time my equipment has evolved and my style has shifted. In recent years the work is done in color with a digital camera and battery operated studio lights. The camps have also evolved and now include tent cities.

With funding I will be able to visit more unique shantytowns around the country including Portland, Oregon, where they have organized tent cities, and Pensacola, Florida, where the mayor tried to pass a law to ban people covering themselves with a blanket in public. I would like to visit as many different states and circumstances as my budget will allow so I can illustrate the spectrum of this national problem.

This twenty-one year long documentary is a voyage of watching homeless people organize themselves as local authorities work to make them disband. The images are not about homelessness in general, but specifically about homeless people setting up structured living solutions to solve the problems they face as a community. In spite of all the programs and services offered, the homeless population continues to grow and the epidemic expands. The mission of this work is to make the invisible population visible so their issues can be addressed."

Read more of people's stories over at the Structure Out Of Chaos website.

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