Sheridan fourth-year photography student Leah den Bok is set to release another volume of her book series Nowhere to Call Home—Photographs and Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness: Volume Four. This one, in particular, shines a light on the state of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. It shares the stories of the hardships they’ve faced and the experiences they’ve gone through since the virus first hit.
For the past five years, Leah has published her series of photos and stories of the homeless to humanize them. She’s taken photos all over the world and listened to their stories of pain, shattered dreams, and broken relationships. By publishing their stories, she hopes to make more people aware of the humanity that’s left within the most vulnerable. She stresses its importance, as her own mother had experienced this herself at a very young age in India.
With this book, Leah strives to make a similar impact as she did with her past volumes, but this time, with more of a call to action than ever. She says that at the start of the pandemic, people were telling her and her father to stay home and to stop interacting with the homeless on the streets. They did for a little bit until they read an article on how much the homeless had endured during the pandemic.
“When my dad and I read that article, we really thought it’s so important for us to go out on the streets… despite the risk… Their lives were already difficult, but they have almost become unbearable because of the pandemic,” said Leah.
She says social distancing had the homeless collecting less than usual, as people became more hesitant to go near them and give them their spare change. Leah also adds how the bathroom facilities that the homeless usually had access to were shut down, as public places like malls became inaccessible during the lockdown. Leah says that what the homeless have been through is something none of us as people should ever experience, especially in times of crisis.
In her photos, Leah says she strives to communicate the individual stories behind each portrait. She says that even if they are of pain, drug addiction, or hardships, she’s also had the pleasure of capturing stories of hope and fortitude.
“I really try to communicate the emotions primarily through objects, eyes, and their facial expressions and hand gestures,” said Leah.
Her former Sheridan instructor Rafael Goldchain couldn’t be happier for Leah’s past successes and the newest installation of her book. He says that he and his colleagues are grateful that she picked Sheridan to expand her capabilities as a photographer, and how a majority of them have evidently become her fans.
“We’re very happy that somebody of her dedication, her steadfastness, her sense of practicing photography as a social practice… it’s a privilege to have her in the program,” said Rafael.
Rafael also adds that Leah’s eye of depicting her photographs aren’t only clear on the message she wants to convey, but they also provide an aesthetic experience no one could dare to look away from. He calls her photos beautiful as they produce a “staying power” for anyone who glances at their first sight of it.
The Stephen Bulger Gallery has hosted Leah’s past event from her last book and will be hosting the one coming up. The President, Stephen Bulger also had some kind words to say about Leah and her work. He says that he’s been impressed with the level of commitment she has to the project, and the quality of work she’s produced at such a young age.
“I think it’s commendable that she has devoted so much time to a group of people that are often overlooked,” said Stephen.
He adds that Leah’s photographs serve as a reminder of the continued existence of homelessness and hopes enough people will be compelled to do something once they see her photos.
Leah will be hosting a book signing and pop-up-themed exhibition at Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery on February 26 from 1-4 p.m. It is located at 1356 Dundas Street West. Copies of her book will also be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other external distributors.