Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Homeless men take photos inspired by Jesus’ last week on Earth

In pictures hanging at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center – pictures of city buses, abandoned liquor bottles, a Downtown intersection quieted by early-morning emptiness – the Rev. Trey Hammond sees a question.

“What is a just and fair society?” asks the board president of the center, a shelter for homeless men.

The pictures contain answers, too, and to get them, Hammond – who also serves as pastor at La Mesa Presbyterian Church – gave disposable cameras to the men living in the center.

Their assignment? To photograph scenes of their lives in Albuquerque that they saw as relating to stories about the last week of Jesus’ life.

The Easter-time project produced 13 photos framing moments of Duke City life seen through the eyes of Michael Hooley and John Rice, two men who have lost their jobs and their homes, but not their hope.

“Just how do you look at the world from the margins, which is where Jesus seemed to identify himself?” Hammond says. “To see this world through the eyes of those that have been dispossessed by it . . . that’s part of what these images do. It’s important for us to see it in mainstream society.”

Each of the 13 photos – and a 14th taken by Peter Gilroy, a 21-year-old photography student at the University of New Mexico who helped arrange the project – touch on a theme in the last week of Jesus’ life as identified by the project’s participants.

The themes they came up with include triumph, community, affirmation, doubt, betrayal, brutality, death and – as evoked in Hooley’s picture of a homeless woman lying on a bench at the Albuquerque Transportation Center – loneliness.

Hooley, 32, says he shot “Anguish in a Lonely Place” as he waited for a bus.

“It’s not a place where you can really lay down or do what you want to, because there’s a lot of security that walks through there,” he says. “I knew that I was capturing a good picture.”

Hooley, whose seven years in the Israeli military left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, became homeless two months ago. His construction job fell through, and the bills piled up.

“I was caught in a situation where I suddenly didn’t know what to do,” he says.

A friend led him to the opportunity center, a shelter with room for 70 men that opened in 2004 and is full every night, Hammond said.

Hooley said he took part in the photo project to heighten people’s awareness of homelessness.

“For myself, I had ignored homelessness,” he says. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve realized that a lot of these people have done well in their lives and, all of a sudden, something just happened, just like me. They become homeless, and they need help.”

Using the stories from Jesus’ last week as a filter, Hooley says he saw scenes of Albuquerque life transformed into living examples of Biblical messages.

“It’s not just something you read and you try to imagine in your mind,” he says. “You can look around you and see people going through some of the same things. It helped my own awareness of . . . what I was going through, and comparing it to what Jesus had gone through. The hope that he had – it gave me hope.”

It’s a feeling that Rice, 56, took from the photography work, as well.

“It gave me encouragement,” he says, “and let me see things that I didn’t notice before.”

He learned the names of streets he had passed by numerous times in his 16 years of living in Albuquerque but was too busy to note. “I was working all the time,” he says.

He noticed the scenery. “I’ve had to take that all in,” he says.

Rice, a union pipe fitter since he was 18, was jailed after being pulled over in October 2005. He lost his car and home. For almost two months, he has lived at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center.

Being homeless is “not a good place to be,” he says, but it has helped him appreciate simple things and given him insight into what’s important.

“I think we have more emotional feelings than a lot of people that are rushed with their life – making an income, shopping, doing this, raising their kids and everything like that – so they’re not concerned with the daily life of other people,” he says. “I think that’s nationwide, especially in California. People are more self-centered there because of the cost of living, what it takes to survive.”

He and Hammond see parallels between Jesus’ struggles and those faced by homeless people: ostracization, persecution and poverty, to name a few.

“The truth is, if we’re going to do some social analysis of where Jesus sat in the society of his time, he was basically a homeless person,” Hammond says. “In a just society, there will not be homeless people.”

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