Every Wednesday evening in the heart of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, a downtown church hosts Skid Row Karaoke as it has for the last twelve years. Most of the participants are homeless, and many of them wheel all of their possessions inside the church with them because they have nowhere else to safely leave their belongings. Some live in shelters or SRO (Single Resident Occupancy hotels) and some are members of the Central City Community Church of the Nazarene, which hosts the weekly event. Many of the performers have been coming here for years, and some of them are really good.
I have been stopping in SRK for a while—whenever I would arrive at Skid Row ahead of my Food Not Bombs friends to serve food on the sidewalks on Wednesday Nights—and I always found it such a great example of the human spirit overcoming crushing adversity. I recognized many of the singers from the streets, and I even saw one local—Jerry Streetwise, who I photographed a set with a few weeks back—make an appearance for a few minutes, although I think he was just looking for a seat and a breather from the street. It’s kind of weird, because the photography aspect isn’t too dissimilar from when I take pictures of bands at Spaceland or the Echo.
One of the goals of my Skid Row photography project is to contrast the positive moments that everybody can identify with to the complete despair of life on the streets. Everybody knows there is a lot of bad stuff on the streets of Skid Row, but many of the residents are simply in periods of transition, and I definitely see more families down there today than I did when I first started visiting Skid Row last year.
I know that I will be photographing many of these singers again down the road when they are in less joyous states. But you can see proof positive that they are able to find brief escapes from their predicaments through the powers of song and dance and community. I just think it’s really inspiring and I think that is the point of a great song.
I’ll be bringing in copies of the photos for the regulars over the next few weeks, and I will be photographing and hopefully getting to know some of them better as I spend more time on Skid Row in May and June, and I will be photographing Skid Row Karaoke each Wednesday through this stretch.
I try to approach each singer as I would any band or singer during one of my club shoots. I’m really looking forward to bringing them my photos, and I really hope both you and the singers enjoy them and I hope the next time you pass a homeless person during your daily grind, you take a moment to think of the images in these photos.