Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4

Photographs and Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness

Non-Fiction - Art/Photography
136 Pages
Reviewed on 04/19/2022
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    Book Review

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.

Michaela Gordoni

Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4: Photographs and Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness by Leah den Bok (with Tim den Bok) is a refreshing collection of interviews and provoking photographs of North American homeless people. It depicts the lives and raw emotions of the homeless, young and old. Through black and white pictures, Leah and Tim den Bok show you just how fragile and vulnerable the lives of the destitute are living on the streets. This volume features the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless, none of which is positive. Nowhere to call Home, Volume 4 shows the true humanity of these people that are so often harshly treated and judged. The main message is that homeless people are people.

I thought this was an excellent, eye-opening book. I especially liked seeing Leah den Bok’s display of photography skills. Even though the candidates presented in the book were asked to have their photos taken in front of a black backdrop, most of the photos appear to be candid. The friendly and compassionate nature of Tim den Bok is also apparent in his conversations and thoughtfully selected questions, which adds to the wholesomeness of this book. I would recommend Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4 to any adult and I would even consider it to give to my friends and family as a Christmas gift. Knowing that all of the proceeds from the book go to help the homeless makes me feel good about reading, buying, and telling others about it.

K.C. Finn

Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4: Photographs and Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness is a work of non-fiction focusing on the art form of photography as a means of discussing social issues and social justice. The work is intended for the general reading audience and was produced by Leah den Bok with Tim den Bok. As the title suggests, the subject matter concerns how people live with homelessness in the here and now, as told through the eyes of photographer Leah whilst touring with her father Tim. As Tim interviews people about their experiences, Leah captures poignant moments to highlight their plight, with a view to humanizing the experience for those who are privileged enough not to know anything about it.

I always find books concerning social justice to be deeply important, and this excellent display of photographic works and social commentary by Leah den Bok and Tim den Bok really lifts the lid on the modern homeless experience. I think it’s wonderful that the sales of the book raise funds as well as awareness, and the goal to humanize the experience has certainly been achieved in the way that Leah chooses her moments to capture ordinary people living in circumstances that are far beyond their control. It’s easy to picture, especially in a pandemic-ridden society where financial crisis and joblessness are on the rise, how any one of us could live this kind of life through no fault of our own. Overall, I found Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4 to be a highly moving and effective work of photography that everyone should experience, whatever their background.

Viga Boland

I can honestly say I have never reviewed a book quite like Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4. It is simple, yet so complex; it has not one single story but many; it has not one protagonist, but fifty, and every one of them has a tale to tell and a face impossible to forget. Those fifty unforgettable faces have been captured in the brilliant photography of Leah den Bok. Even my now-retired husband, a professional photographer, is in awe of Leah’s work. From the excellent lighting to the angles she has chosen to capture the essence of her subjects, the homeless, she has succeeded in making readers see into their hearts and souls. Assisting Leah in helping us get to know the protagonists is her father, Tim. It is Tim who interviewed Vaughan, an electrician, who stated: “When you end up on the street, it’s more of a choice.” Tim recorded each interviewee for accuracy while Leah was taking their portraits. Clay told Tim that some of the nicest people with the kindest hearts were those he met on the streets. Then there was Jamie: his story about his murdered sister is gut-wrenching. In contrast, when Owen revealed he had worked for the Federal Government and had a university degree, I found myself wondering how on earth he became homeless.

Even after you read each story, you will still wonder about the fifty homeless people to whom Leah and her father introduce you. Their stories are short and simple in detail but their photos tell you just how complex their lives have been and, for many of them, how hard they still are. So many said they haven’t seen their families in years. So many were hungry. So many of them preferred living in tents or under a bridge on the streets to living in a shelter. Why? You will find the reasons for that and other questions you will have as you read Nowhere to Call Home. Perhaps not all the stories will move you emotionally, but you’d have to be insensitive to not feel teary-eyed at the words that Grant sings in his song, “Don’t Laugh at Me”. I learned so much about the homeless from Leah and her father. Apart from the information provided by the 50 “stars” of Volume 4 in this series, the authors have provided extensive additional information about homelessness. On a parting note, royalties from the sales of this series go directly to those who can help the homeless. Buy the book or books. You’ll be infinitely rewarded spiritually.

Leonard William Smuts

The plight of the homeless is brought into stark reality by Leah den Bok in Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4. Her exquisite photography graphically captures the looks of sadness, resignation, dejection, suffering, and loneliness of her subjects. Life on the streets is tough and this is particularly reflected in their eyes, but there is still room for occasional humor and homespun philosophy. The photographs are mirrored by interviews conducted by the author’s father, Tim Den Bok. Each story is different and individually poignant, but naturally, there are common threads. Financial hardship, broken homes, misfortune, substance abuse, and mental health issues combine to force people onto the streets. They endure their suffering with emotions ranging from quiet stoicism to utter and resigned defeat. In some cases, there is hope for rehabilitation into society, or perhaps a government grant or help from a kindly citizen. The resilience of street people is astonishing, as is their inventiveness and will to survive, despite the odds.

Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4 includes fifty photographs of subjects captured mainly in Canada, although Leah den Bok and her father have traveled far and wide to highlight the increasing number of homeless people. Those images are included in earlier volumes. Her work is aimed at raising awareness of the issues involved and at the same time affording dignity to a marginalized community. The photographs and text are without judgment and serve as a record of a tragic aspect of our times. Despite her youth, Leah displays an affinity with her subject matter far beyond her years. These are not studio portraits and the difficulty of obtaining such beautiful images while on the street in at times adverse conditions should not be underestimated. The stories told dig deeply into the conscience of society and ask whether enough is being done to house the poor and dispossessed. The book is rounded off with insightful analysis of the factors affecting homelessness in Canada and a list of organizations that can assist.