Portraits of the Homeless Photographed in a Studio Environment


“Down and Out in the South” is a series of studio portraits by photographer Jan Banning that explore the issue of homelessness.

The project started back in 2010 while Banning was working as an artist-in-residence. A board member of the art center suggested homelessness as a potential subject matter for Banning to explore.

The photographer was initially hesitant, feeling like he “had little to contribute to existing images” due to the fact that “society’s outcasts have been photographed very often.”

However, after thinking about it some more, Banning decided to tackle the project—albeit in an angle different from most photographers. Rather than photographing the men and women on the streets where they live, he decided to photograph them as he “would photograph any other member of society.

Banning deliberately tried to avoid many of the clichés of photo projects involving homelessness. Instead of finding people who stand out as “different” in one way or another, he invited the people into his makeshift studio for portraits against a neutral backdrop. Banning’s goal was “focusing on their individuality rather than on stereotypes.

“I want to show who they are rather than what they are labeled,” he says. Banning also interviewed his subjects.

The portraits show men and women Banning encountered in South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi between 2010 and 2011:










Banning ended up photographing around 100 homeless men and women in the South. The subjects were from a metropolis, a medium-sized city, and a few rural towns (Banning wanted a “fair degree of representation” in his series). Each portrait subject was given a print of their photograph.

42 of the portraits have been published in a hardcover photo book titled “Down and Out in the South.” You can also find the project over on Banning’s website.

“Down and Out in the South” by Jan Banning (via Slate)

P.S. Back in February, we featured a project in which Banning photographed government officials from around the world in their offices.

Image credits: Photographs by Jan Banning and used with permission

  • MeloCreative

    These are mediocre at best. They evoke little to no emotion and say nothing of these people’s lives. He basically gave them all a Sears portrait session. Where will they hang their ‘print’?

  • Nick Moore

    At least the photographer is out working instead of sitting around online posting negative comments about others.

  • MeloCreative

    I guess you’re not working today either.

  • Nick Moore

    Nope. I’m on vacation.

  • Alex

    Obviously people can’t take critique for s**t these days, as long as someone is doing something even if it’s bad it’s considered “their style” and not a mediocre piece of work.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I think there is always something interesting in the human face. Taking them out of their environment acts to highlight just the face (I understand that’s a bit of a “duh” statement, but I hope you understand what I mean).

    Are they breathtakingly stunning images, no. But I think they are very interesting.

  • Sean Matt

    I’m actually homeless right now. While I’m not living on the streets, I’m staying in my car. I wash up and do hygiene stuff in my grandma’s apartment but I can’t stay there since it’s government housing.

    Snapping nighttime architectural shots with a 50mm (1.5 crop) lens is a neat experience!

  • Burnin Biomass

    At first when I went thru them I was thinking “wow, look at the wear on
    their faces”. Then I realized that I have uncles that have similar “wear”, and
    they are not homeless.

    I wonder what my reaction to these would have been if at first I hadn’t know they were homeless? The way they were shot (without a background that informs) lends itself to displaying the images, then letting the viewer know afterwards that they were homeless.

  • Aaro Keipi

    I’m intrigued to find out how you would have done this better. It sounds like you were expecting something like Help Portrait, while this photog was clearly trying to do something different from what has been done before.

    I, for one, found it quite refreshing to see homeless people photographed like normal people, not with heavy B&W HDR or other such effects. Maybe you need to learn to look a little bit deeper and appreciate what these photographs convey instead of arguing about what you think they should convey.

  • RBM

    This project misses the mark. These portraits not only bring nothing beyond a Walmart portrait to the table, but the fact that these people are homeless seem to have no real impact on the nature of the photos. Their “homelessness”, other than a short blurb in the tag line leading into the post, has absolutely nothing to do with the photos. Nothing was captured telling us who these people are, or what difficulties they go through on a daily basis. Oil rig workers who make 100K a year have “well worn faces”, so contrary to the obvious, that’s of no particular value.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I actually think these are fine facial studies, but I would agree with statements that they don’t necessarily say a lot.

  • just saying

    He more than likely fed them and gave them coffee… that again is more than you do… you more than likely walk past and don’t even care, this is why you don’t care that this happened..its not about hanging a print, its also about the chats they had together, its more important to the photographer why he did it for him self and not for us, we observe the shots, and try get an understanding to why these people are on the streets, not to kick them down some more.

  • MeloCreative

    Do you know that he fed them? Do you know anything about me and what charitable things I do or don’t do? Don’t make stupid statements. If he ‘did it for himself’ as you say, then why share it online? Why print a book? Art invites critique. If not then keep it to yourself.

    Why are people so sensitive to ‘comments’. This is the bloody comment section. If you disagree with my opinion then address my opinion in an intellectual way. Don’t reply with small minded conjecture.

  • AutomaticPython


  • frank


  • PeterF

    Must agree with overall negative critique posted here. While the images presented here are indeed fine studio portraits, well lit, modeled and shot, they ultimately fail to capture the individual predicament of ‘homelessness’.

    As has been done previously, the photographer could have better approached his chosen subject in situ, and still retained each person’s individuality and humanity. As it stands, these images have more in common with a sanitized fashion shoot.

  • Lou

    All these negative comments about these photos “not capturing the homelessness” totally miss the point; you guys might want to reread the article. These are nice facial studies that show that the homeless are people too, and if you take them out of their element (or perceived element), you can’t necessarily tell that they are homeless.

  • Dozy Meda

    Oh damn… please not again that subject.

  • incendiary

    That’s what I got out of the photographs. Could be anyone…

  • RBM

    No real need to have them be “homeless” then, is there?…….I mean, other than having that marketable ability to put “another (pointless) homeless photo study” in the tag line? This does absolutely nothing of value with the “homeless” tag but exploit it (and them) yet again.

  • PhotoShark

    Freakin A. The comment section on petapixel is so full of negativitiy and poor critiques these days. I used to enjoy the discussion, now its just all people saying “this isnt that great.”

  • Chris Rusanowsky

    Amazing work, People tend to walk past the homeless as if they were not there. These portraits show that we are all equal and the same. Once again amazing images!

  • Xi

    Great work, but I think homeless models should get paid with money, not pictures.

  • Just Saying

    Not always best to reply with a intellectual way, sometimes it make you look a stupid human like your statement above… this world is full of different type of humans, Clever, stupid, disabled, handicapped you name it… and because i have autism you are now blaming me for not putting a intellectual comment… you judged me before you knew me like i did you to your comment… but comment was worse then my reply..

  • just saying

    and also i just realised it did a reply too ur comment Nick which it WASNT meant for my comment was so pose to of replied to the comment “These are mediocre at best. They evoke little to no emotion and say nothing of these people’s lives. He basically gave them all a Sears portrait session. Where will they hang their ‘print’?” not ur comment at all…

  • MOGA

    i understand the fist reply and yes i agree also that it is a mediocre work …. simple and basic portraiture work (and nobody is talking about the models, we’re talking work)

  • panacheart

    show us your work.

  • Guest

    I think these are actually pretty good. The photograph is neutral enough to give the face space to tell it’s own story.