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February 11, 2013

Salem photographer puts a face on homelessness


Amanda Bishop, 25, is one of the people in those portraits.

“People actually want to hear my story now. ... That never happened before,” said Bishop. “Nobody ever really took the time to say, ‘What’s your deal?’”

Bishop, who has previously lived in Salem, was working as a live-in personal care aide until her client’s death left her homeless 10 months ago.

“There’s some of us that are trying to make our situation better, not just stay in the same rut and do the same things every day,” said Bishop. “It’s not always a choice. It’s definitely not. Because if it was my choice, I would have had the 18 jobs I’ve applied to in the last 10 months. I would have had the apartment that I need. I would have had everything I needed if it was up for me to choose.”

Last month, she had her photograph taken again, but this time with her fiance, Sequonie “Q” Suarez, and her dog, Shadow.

Suarez, 22, a Boston native, has been homeless for about two years. He is working on getting his GED so he can apply for music school, and eventually he hopes to open his own studio.

“I love music, so I try to always apply my music to being homeless because, honestly, without my music I would probably go crazy,” he said. “This is hard to deal with. A lot of people don’t understand that.”

Both Pira and Livny said the “Invisible Faces” project has done more than shed light on the problem of youth homelessness.

“These kids now are taking on the advocacy work that I could never do,” Pira said. “We never had the vision that these kids could be advocates for homelessness.”

Pira’s project has also attracted the attention of the Center for Social Innovation, which approached him about incorporating “Invisible Faces” in a larger, nationwide initiative — the Outside In Project — that uses art as a vehicle to spur change. The collaboration also opens the door for additional grant funding. Pira continues to solicit donations and apply for grants to keep the project going.

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