How did this project begin? What was the basic idea?
There are a lot of homeless people in Venice, CA. I walked past one guy in particular to and from work every day. It wasn't until I learned his name, Robertson, that I stopped looking at him as a panhandler, but a person that I wanted to know more about and help. I wondered if my experience could work on a larger scale.
Originally, the idea was to distribute 5,000 of these giant nametags to homeless in Los Angeles over the course of one weekend. We thought it would be great if the homeless started a movement, or a sort of uprising, and every street corner was occupied by people holding up a sign, demanding that they be seen as human beings and not trash. We wanted the homeless issue to be front-page news, simply build awareness by giving the homeless a voice, and give homeless organizations a platform to offer solutions.
After months of mostly positive meetings with local homeless organizations to help with the distribution of signs, a unified effort proved to be impossible due to religious, political, or selfish motivations. Rather than let the idea die, we thought the idea could even have more impact if we distributed them to hundreds of photographers around the world and let them photograph homeless people in their community. Then compile the images for a website, an exhibition, a book, and whatever else presents itself along the way.
If I donate materials, what's in it for my company or me?
How about good karma? There are no corporate logos or shameless plugs allowed. This is not a PR stunt or a way to say, "Aren't we good people?" So many corporations donate money for selfish reasons. We are not one of them. We are simply using our creative talents to get a positive message out to the public. It is a random act of kindness that we hope inspires others to do something similar.
You initially sought help from corporate and religious charity organizations to set up this project. What help or challenges did you face?
It was an interesting experience. There were some organizations that just weren't interested for whatever reason. We did find one local mission who had started gathering with other missions a few times a year. We were able to present to all of these organizations. Everyone seemed to think that it was extremely powerful. Many suggested other ways to use the idea, like at their dignity parade last November. Or to display the signs on their wall. Or to give them to the 300 homeless people who meet with City Council once a month. No one returned our calls or emails from that point forward. Very strange. The only negative things we've heard were that it encouraged panhandling and that some people actually wanted to remain anonymous.
How do you think this project will be different from the usual charity project? How will it grab people's attention and raise awareness?
- It's selfless. A random act of kindness.
- It doesn't require a lot of energy to get involved. Mainly just time. Time spent doing things people normally do.
- It's more personal. It deals with individuals as opposed to an entire group. It's one on one.
- It's doesn't use traditional media or the typical visual or written language of charity. It doesn't make you feel guilty. It's not asking for money, just your respect.
- It gives individuals a voice instead of letting an organization speak for them.
- It has the potential to spread globally with very little effort.
How do the homeless react to being a part of this?
It depends. We've heard, "This is exactly how I'm feeling today. Thank you." And we've heard of photographers running into people who don't want to be bothered, or known. Some are mentally ill. We've heard that some get more money because of the sign.
In what way do you think this project will contribute towards solving or easing the homeless problem?
If anything, we hope it will bring attention to the homeless issue. Hopefully, it touches people enough to want to get involved, help spread the word, volunteer, donate time/money, write their senator or city council member, etc. One sign and one photograph might not make a dent, but the more creative ways we can get our photos and message out there, the more impact it will have in the long run.
Why/how did you get photographers involved? How did you reach/source photographers globally?
We thought seeing 5,000 images of homeless people from all corners of the globe would be really powerful. It made it both a global and local issue. It made it more newsworthy instead of just being about Los Angeles.
We've basically used the creative trade press to help spread the word to photographers, emailed everyone we know, every photography rep we know, photography schools, and anything else we can get our hands on.
Do you feel the project has been or will be successful in creating awareness? What would you like to see happen as a result?
It's not going to solve the problem, but maybe it'll grow into something that can cause change. If it gets one person off the streets and their life back on track, or it changes one person's perception of the homeless, then it's been successful.
Has this project spun off into new ideas?
We were approached by a commercial film director who is in the process of shooting 6 TV commercials based on the same idea.
Are there any mandatories?
1. If you request signs, use them all.
2. People must hold the sign.
3. And they must write their own name.
4. It must be legible. It is best to use a wide black marker for visibility.The larger the better.
Other than that, feel free to shoot digitally, b/w, film, color, whatever you like.
I noticed you have a few different deadlines? What happens if I miss mine?
Project Hello will continue indefinitely. However, deadlines are implemented for various stages of the project. If you miss your deadline, you may not be included in a particular exhibition or book of ours, but the website will be updated regularly. These are deadlines for our initiatives. That doesn't mean you can't start your own exhibition or send your photos to your local press or politicians.
What format would you like the photos?
Please send us hi-res scans (approx. 10" x 14" at 300 dpi) on a disk or CD to this address:
66 1/2 Windward Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
Is Project Hello a non-profit organization?
Not at the moment. Project Hello is not a company but an idea created by a group of people within a non-conventional advertising agency for no other reason than to do something good. To use their skills as mass communicators and resources within the creative community to help build awareness about homelessness. All of their time and materials (paper, ink, postage, envelopes, etc.) are being donated.
Where will the proceeds go?
Currently, nothing that Project Hello is involved in generates money. The book concept could generate a profit if we cannot locate a publisher to donate the materials. If this is the case, we will use this money to create a Foundation that benefits the homeless through other random acts of kindness we create.