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Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:01 am

Telling their stories

Springfield photographer has a passion for the homeless

Springfield photographer Adam Smith, left, is producing a documentary film about the homeless people with whom he spent the past three months. Bill Guyer, right, is one of Smith’s subjects in the film.


In the middle of the gazebo at Washington Park in Springfield sits a homeless man named Bill Guyer. A quiet, thoughtful man, Guyer strums a guitar skillfully while his duffel bag containing all of his possessions sits on the gazebo steps.

At 51, Guyer has been through a lot – the theft of all of his belongings, a few stints in prison, and even the death of his wife and unborn daughter. Most recently, he suffered a hernia that is visible through his clothes and which forced him to stop working. It’s the primary reason he’s currently homeless.

Sitting on the steps next to Guyer’s duffel bag is Springfield photographer Adam Smith, who spent the past three months with homeless people in Springfield, photographing them and interviewing them for a documentary film he’s producing.

“If there’s one thing I want this documentary to do, it’s to spread the word about these people,” Smith said. “They’re human beings; they’re not animals. People show them no respect, when the truth of the matter is these people I’ve become friends with on the streets have more heart and loyalty than 95 percent of the people we run into on a regular basis.”

Homeless man Richard Perky of Springfield appears in Smith’s documentary, recalling experiences like his escape from a pair of infamous serial killers.
PHOTO BY Adam Smith

Smith, 32 and a native of Springfield, got into photography as a way of coping with the death of his father. He previously shot mostly landscape and nature photos until a broken camera forced him to take a break. Smith says when he finally got his camera back from the repair shop, he found his passion had cooled.

“I felt an empty feeling that night, but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I knew I wanted to do something with the homeless,” Smith said. “They have so many stories, but no one wants to hear what they have to say.”

Titled Untold Stories: Conversations with the Homeless, the documentary film will feature the life stories of homeless people and depict their experiences and struggles. The film is currently in the editing process and is scheduled for release in November.

Untold Stories: Conversations with the Homeless Trailer from Adam Smith on Vimeo.

Smith says when he first started spending time with homeless people at the Springfield Overflow Shelter, he had to earn the trust of his subjects. He told them he has a degree in law enforcement from Lincoln Land Community College, they suspected him of being an undercover police officer.

“It was rough, but I kept coming back day after day after day,” he said.

The stories Smith has collected include a homeless man who believes angels kept him from committing suicide, a homeless woman who can speak several languages and make clothing, and a homeless man who narrowly escaped from an infamous serial-killing couple named Ray and Faye Copeland.

Smith has also collected stories like that of a homeless man who was panhandling and saw a man in a vehicle tear up a dollar bill and throw it at him.

“What kind of person can go home and sleep at night after doing that to another human being?” Smith said with anger in his voice.

He says being around the homeless has been humbling because it puts daily problems into perspective.

“Due to their circumstances, the homeless have been able to distance themselves from the material things that we take for granted,” Smith said.

A homeless man from Oregon who calls himself Dafydd – a form of “David” – shows a wound he got when a tree branch impaled his arm.
PHOTO BY Adam Smith

By sharing the stories of homeless people, Smith hopes to show that they are real people with ambitions and desires. He also wants to prompt action on the root problems of homelessness and show just how close many people are to becoming homeless. All it takes is one disaster or one turn of bad luck, he says, to put someone on the street.

“What separates you from the homeless?” Smith said. “It’s one paycheck. At any given moment, we could lose our family, our friends, our cars, everything. Who would you turn to? Where would you go? How would you survive?”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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