'Lived Experience' photo exhibit spotlights life on the Boulder streets

Dec. 7—Marc Davenant, a photographer based in Britain, spent six years photographing unhoused communities on the streets of London in an effort to challenge perspectives on those without housing and to spotlight people impacted by the housing crisis.

Boulder County nonprofit Feet Forward and Unboxed Photography teamed up to place cameras directly into the hands of unhoused participants in Boulder, allowing folks to capture their day-to-day lives, moments with friends and glimpses of life on the streets in Boulder.

In May 2022, over 30 disposable cameras were handed out at a Feet Forward weekly outreach event.

"We announced the photography project, and 36 interested folks signed up to participate," said B Goodell, a Louisville-based photographer and founder of Unboxed Photography. "I had the opportunity to provide a brief overview of camera operation and encourage each individual to document their experience as a way to share their story. Beyond that, I wanted their creativity to run free."

Twenty images were selected and can be seen hanging along the Arapahoe Ramp, near the café, within Boulder Public Library. The "Lived Experience" exhibition was made possible by an $8,000 grant from Boulder Arts Commission.

Goodell hand-printed the photos that will be on display through Jan. 29.

"Despite spending considerable time with each image, I continue to discover new details in the photographs," Goodell said. "There is always a different perspective to consider, another angle to view them from. The unanswered questions the images bring up are my favorite part because they inspire me to think and feel more deeply into the experience."

As owner of Unboxed, Goodell aims to shed light on social issues through documentary-style photography and filmmaking. Prior to embracing the art of photography, Goodell worked in healthcare IT consulting.

"I fell in love with photography because it provided me an outlet to explore my emotions and study ideas in nonverbal ways," Goodell said. "Art is an important piece of our humanity, and I find photography to be a powerful tool in my personal healing. Sharing the opportunity for one to experience this connection to self, through unstructured play, is the biggest reward."

"Lived Experience" was inspired by the Through Our Eyes Project, a venture established in 2016 that gave people experiencing homelessness in Spartanburg, S.C., disposable cameras to document their lives.

Goodell found it rewarding giving others a platform to create art and is also excited to reexamine other work started prior to the chaos and uncertainty of 2020.

"I hope to revisit the portraiture work I was making before the pandemic hit," Goodell said. "I have a lot of source material, and now it's time to synthesize and iterate to find out where the process takes me."

"Lived Experience" spotlights the humanity of unhoused photographers and it gave them the tools to document scenes where inspiration struck. It's organizers hope that the artistic expression captured on film will perhaps change some perspectives on Boulder County's unhoused population.

"I hope viewers take away that we have more in common than we might think," said Jennifer Livovich, founder of Feet Forward. "Many of the photos could easily be taken by the viewer. In fact, by anyone — snapping selfies, moments with friends and loved ones and capturing the beauty of Boulder's built environment."

Photographers who returned the cameras were given $20 King Soopers gift cards. Eventually, finalists will be awarded with cash prizes from the remaining grant money.

"It's important to me that these photos remain accessible to the people who took them," Livovich said. "Selling them was never a consideration. Some of our photographers have secured housing since this project began, and I cannot think of a better place for their photos to be than on the walls of their own homes. Others will be offered to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless."

Before founding Feet Forward, Livovich experienced homelessness in Boulder firsthand while she battled substance abuse. From 2012 to 2017, she relied on shelters and safehouses to dwell in after she fled an abusive marriage.

Her passion to help those in need stems from her own incredible journey of finding her way off the streets.

"Homelessness moves fast," Livovich said. "One day, you are brand new to it and the next, it's five years later. Resources are extremely limited and so are life's chances. Take any opportunity you are given and act like it's the last one you've got."

When she was unhoused, Livovich suffered from a bad case of frostbite on her left foot. She was eventually connected to a sober-supported transitional housing program in southeastern Colorado called Fort Lyon, based in Las Animas. While there, she received medical care for her foot. She enrolled in classes at Colorado State University and studied up on at-risk populations, federal housing and community development.

Every Tuesday, the Feet Forward crew can be found at the Boulder Bandshell, 1212 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, from 2:30-4 p.m. In addition to connecting folks with resources, the nonprofit serves hot meals, distributes weather-appropriate clothing, provides a portable charging station and gives seasonal haircuts.

Livovich began helping those in need by collecting socks. Now, Feet Forward continues to evolve to meet the needs of many. The altruistic group is made up of many people who were once living on Boulder's streets themselves.

Established in 2020, Feet Forward continues to make a difference in the lives of many. Livovich is excited about the nonprofit's future projects that will take shape in 2023.

"Feet Forward understands better than anyone the challenges that can occur when transitioning from outside to in," Livovich said, "which is why we will continue to expand our peer support so that we can walk alongside a person during every step of their housing journey — including their transition and aftercare."

For Livovich, every aspect of running this peer-led organization is incredibly rewarding.

"I cannot forget the feeling of being able to help someone I have known for a decade — and used to sleep under bridges with — get into their own housing," Livovich said. "It's all been amazing, and I am extremely grateful."