Saviorism highlights the limited responses that wealthy people have to poverty. When poorness is not something that can be aestheticized, marketed, or profited from, people with class privilege turn to another method of seeing pleasure in strife: the feel-good approach. As Seattle-based movement “Facing Homelessness” showcases, people with class privilege selectively identify suitable recipients of financial donations. Saviorism identifies the inherent sexuality of this selection process, in the way that homeless people are chosen based on how desirable they are, or what attractive traits they have. The photos in this exhibit are a sampling of recipients that “Facing Homelessness” founder and photographer Rex Hohlbein has selected and circulated via their social media. Notice the demographics and identities that these receivers hold, the statement that this makes about what kinds of homeless people get approached, and the positionality between the camera and the subjects.
– Emma Williams '20
“heartBREAK” depicts Jordan and her boyfriend Sean in a tent in a park in north Seattle. The caption of the image describes the heartbreaking reality that Jordan faces as someone who experiences recurring health issues at the same time as being homeless.
Hohlbein notes that the image of the tent in the middle of a sea of trash elicits hopelessness when he describes interacting with Jordan’s friend Alex, the owner of the tent, “[Alex] apologized about the garbage I would be seeing, saying it wasn't all his, it was clear it was embarrassing to him.” While attempting to address the stigmatization of homelessness and uncleanliness, Hohlbein uses this sense of shame to elicit a sense of pity from the viewer.
Hohlbein goes on to describe the strife he would feel should his daughter be the person in this difficult circumstance, signing off the post with a call for donations for Jordan. This humanization through a comparison to his own daughter leads the viewer to make presumptions about the identities that both Hohlbein’s family and Jordan hold, elucidating the politics of this “charitable” selection process.
In “goodMORNING” Hohlbein describes his daily interactions with Emily, the subject of this photograph. Hohlbein emphasizes the brevity of these interactions and how apologetic Emily frequently is. This power dynamic of apologizing and forgiving furthers the narrative of pity and condolence, as Hohlbein is left to respond with reassurance. Hohlbein goes on to explain that Emily is an artist, and requests art supply gift cards for her, reasoning that “she would be simply overjoyed” to receive one.
In the comments section, one Facebook user responds, “sweet kid. I hope she finds a housing situation going forwards. She's too young and cute to be on the street. ugh. Sending her good wishes.” Though the user follows up later, emphasizing that no one deserves to be homeless, regardless of how cute or sweet they are, it is clear that facets of identity inform this perception. Emily’s whiteness, femininity, and relative vulnerability while laying down beneath Hohlbein’s camera enable these sentiments of support.
In “newBORN” Hohlbein tells the story of newborn Ethan and his parents who live on a highway ramp in north Seattle. Though Ethan is not pictured, the portrait depicts new parents Erik and Bella. Hohlbein uses their posture to exemplify their closeness as a couple. Hohlbein recounts interviewing the couple and learning about their love for one another, which is described at length. This emphasis on closeness, monogamy, and the nuclear family strengthens Hohlbein’s plea for financial support for the couple.
In an effort to humanize Erik and Bella, Hohlbein accentuates how normal they are by legitimizing them as a couple. In this pursuit, Hohlbein simultaneously enforces standards of “conventional” relationships, championing them as if their monogamy makes them more worthy of support. This implication extenuates Hohlbein’s commentary on who deserves to receive help.