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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4: Photographs and Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness by Leah den Bok, and with interviews conducted by her father Tim den Bok, is a first-hand account and pictorial compilation of the photographer's desire to humanize and bring homelessness out from the shadows. Fifty black and white true-to-life portraits make up the photography portion, each accompanied by a brief record of the conversation had with the individual, providing a comprehensive series of faces and stories of those who are without shelter, many of whom have been sleeping rough for years. Some for decades. The individuals featured range from Mary Ellen, a fifty-five-year-old mother of five with complex mental health issues who had been on the street since she was eleven, to Clay, a feisty Vietnam veteran who is the spitting image of Leonardo da Vinci in his hand-drawn self-portrait and described as having a "crusty exterior" for his quick temper and no-holds-barred tongue.
Having grown up in San Francisco, California, I am no stranger to quietly witnessing homelessness on a massive scale. What I am a stranger to are the stories of those I passed on a daily basis and, I am embarrassed to admit, I genuinely cannot even recall the features of a single one. I certainly will now. There is a man named Vaughn between the covers of Nowhere to Call Home who tells Tim den Bok that he is a licensed electrician by trade and homeless by choice. In Leah den Bok's photograph, he looks off to the side casually while smoking a cigarette, captured in extraordinarily raw and rugged detail. They are taken aback as he is the first out of hundreds the father-daughter team has met in this situation. I found the most touching profile to be that of a man named Jamie, whose clean photo I might have mistaken for a younger Hugh Bonneville. Jamie opens up and shares his tragic past: a sister murdered by their abusive father, and a mother long lost to the overwhelming pain, the same pain that Jamie is unable to conceal. This is a hauntingly sad book, complex and gorgeous, and deeply moving. Very highly recommended.