Structure Out of Chaos: Shantytowns of America’s Homeless is a paradox. These are portraits of the homeless in homes. This is the story of people creating structure and communities out of almost nothing.
There is a push between people trying to survive and others who want them to become ‘invisible.’ The camps are often swept and authorities discard their belongings as trash, forcing people to start over with nothing. Sweeps throw people back into chaos until they rebuild. The cycle is endless.
Shantytowns have not been this abundant since the Great Depression. However, today it has less to do with poverty and more to do with our social ills. For starters, our national mental health care system lost funding and patients are left to navigate their own care. Many end up living on the streets, self-medicating with drugs.
The burden of homelessness falls on cities that seem to think the quickest way to resolve this problem is to pass laws against it. But homelessness is not a crime, and laws that criminalize this population take away their civil rights, while filling our jails with people who need doctors.
The intent of this project is to use photography to open a dialogue about chronic homelessness. As we shift our awareness, we can transform from criminalizing the victims to addressing the issues.
For the past 24 years Mary Lou Uttermohlen has been watching homeless people who build shantytowns in the United States. When she started the project encampments were a safe place for homeless people to live. Currently there is a battle going on between those who want the problem to go away and people with nowhere to go. Local laws get passed trying to force them to be invisible. Her work is about encouraging informed discourse on the topic.
In another series she documents spirituality in New Orleans in a series called Spiritual YAYA. This project peels back the shroud exposing the spiritual mysteries of the city. It begins with mainstream spiritual events and then explores small secret spiritual communities.
Uttermohlen works full time as a freelance photographer creating portraits for print and digital media. Photo Lucida’s Critical Mass just named her as one of the Top 50 photographers by 200 jurors. She has also earned fellowships from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the State of Florida. She has a long exhibition record and is in several collections including the New Orleans Museum of Art, United States Embassy in Moscow, Russia and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Collection.