Homelessness art

Armed with a camera and a big heart, Jon Linton uses art to spread awareness and compassion about the issue of homelessness in Phoenix.

When Linton started working in the fashion industry just out of college, he remembers being teased often by a fellow co-worker for always reaching into his pockets to help the needy, he said. She thought of him as a dumb, overly idealistic kid from the midwest, which as Linton admits, he was.

Years later after he transitioned into the art business, he remembers a conversation with a fellow artist about how he wanted to do a coffee book chronicling the plight of the homeless. His friend asked him why he doesn’t just go do it instead of talking about it since he had been going on about it for ten years, but Linton replied that he felt he needed more of a plan.

“And he looked at me and said, ‘No man, all you need is a camera,’” Linton said.

So he went out and bought a camera. And with that, the project was born. Linton said he had no idea what the project should be called, but he knew that he wanted to do a book and he knew that he could use art as a launching pad for this issue.

The actual title of the project came from his first experience approaching a homeless man on the street and taking his photograph, Linton said.

“When I photographed the man he started to weep, and when he started to weep then I started to weep because I knew what had happened. And he had said, ‘You have no idea how long it’s been since somebody cared to asked me my name. We are like the walking invisible, like America’s forgotten,’” Linton said.

That moving dialogue brought about the title of the project, I Have A Name, he said. “These folks may not have a door to walk through at the day’s end, but like you and me, they have a name.”

In 2007 after Linton started working on the project, the Goldwater Bank found out about what he was doing and expressed that they would like to fund it. Towards the end of 2008, Linton was nearing completion of the project when he got a call from the bank. They told him that they could no longer provide financing due to the current circumstances surrounding the economic climate, he said.

Although heart wrenching, the project had to be put on hold.

After a number of years, Linton picked the project back up because he decided that it was more important now than ever, he said. He created a Facebook page about a year ago and began posting the photographs and videos he had taken of the homeless in Phoenix.

He said that in the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of outpouring of support and interest from the community. And with a surprising bit of irony, Allison Goldwater Arkin, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater, reached out and told him she wants to help. He is currently working with her to trademark the name as well as turn the project into a 501(c)3, he said.

The word is also spreading among local artists in the community, among those is the owner of {9}: The Gallery, Laura Dragon. The gallery opened in June 2012 and since then, Dragon has done several benefits raising money for the less fortunate, she said.

Dragon also has a personal connection to I Have A Name because she herself spent two years of her life homeless. In the last five years she has been able to recreate her life in Phoenix but it came with a lot of hard work, she said.

“I had it all and I lost it all and I worked really hard to develop a quality of life again that has some dignity to it,” Dragon said.

After meeting Jon and seeing the emotional, black and white photographs of the Phoenix homeless he had taken, she knew she had to be a part of the project, she said.

“I became very touched and very moved by the work and offered him the opportunity to launch a show at my space,” Dragon said.

They are planning on putting together a crowdfunding opportunity to pay for a small initial run of books and for the large prints that need to be provided for the show. If everything comes together, as Linton is hopeful it will, the first gallery show will be in December. And they want to make the project a travelling installation that would show in other cities, Linton said.

“It’s just one voice at a time, but that’s how movements start and that’s really what we are after,” he said.

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