Shooting Back: Photography By and About the Homeless
September 14 – November 25, 1990
Artists: Jim Hubbard, Lilianna Nieto del Rio, Mark Peterson, Jim Goldberg.
Documentary by Robin Smith.
Play by Suzanne Christmas Goldman performed by ‘Voices from the Streets’.
A major exhibition of photographs taken by Washington’s homeless children. WPA presents ‘Voices from the Streets’, a performance by the homeless and formerly homeless individuals, a public panel discussion, a catalogue of the children’s work, and a 30-minute documentary for public television, to be shown throughout the exhibit. Collaboration between the Shooting Back Education and Media Center and WPA.
When Jim Hubbard conceptualized the photographic project Shooting Back in the late 1980s, he never imagined it would have the international reach that it does today. Hubbard, working as a news photographer for United Press International in Washington, was documenting the lives of DC’s homeless residents to raise awareness about their plight. One day he handed his camera to a curious child named Dion, who enthusiastically snapped photos of his surroundings. Hubbard quickly recognized that “teaching the children photography and other creative skills could give them a fighting chance in their violent world.”
Over the following months Hubbard recruited professional photographers to accompany him to homeless shelters, teach children to use cameras and develop and process film, and escort the photographers around the shelters and into their adjacent neighborhoods. “These children,” he wrote, “were hungry for attention and someone to help channel their powerful and creative energy. . . . [I wanted] to convey to them that they are important, as important as my own children.” One day, a young photographer walking past syringes discarded on a street ravaged by frequent gunplay remarked “We’re shooting back.” The name stuck.
The WPA exhibition, which featured black-and-white photographs taken by 50 children, was curated by program director Philip Brookman in cooperation with the Shooting Back Education and Media Center founded by Hubbard in 1989. Homeless individuals staged a performance titled “Voices from the Streets,” written by Suzanne Christmas Goldman, and WPA commissioned a play titled “Is Anyone Minding the Children?,” which focused on poverty and child abuse, and featured a cast of homeless and formerly homeless children. WPA also exhibited paintings produced by children from the Homeless Children’s Tutorial Project.
Not only did over 10,000 visitors pour into the galleries, but the Shooting Back photographs were featured in Life magazine, Oprah Winfrey urged the project forward, and additional invitations to exhibit were issued. In 1991, Hubbard published a book, Shooting Back: A Photographic View of Life by Homeless Children, in which many of the works from the WPA exhibition were reproduced. In 1994, WPA hosted Hubbard’s show titled Shooting Back from the Reservation: Another Dimension, which featured photographs by Native American children. Shooting Back had taken off, “in large part,” Hubbard stated, “from the [initial] WPA exhibit.”
The success of Shooting Back is exemplified as well in its international reach. Shortly after the WPA exhibition in 1990, Hubbard was invited to France to exhibit the children’s works in a prestigious international photography exhibition. In 2010, as Catalyst was in preparation, Hubbard was working with budding photographers in Palestine and was preparing to travel to Hong Kong for a second time to consult with a family foundation about expanding the scope of photography workshop for youth. He remains in contact with some of the young photographers who participated in the initial project.