Aldine ISD Teen Photographer Humanizes Homeless: HCDE’s Scholastic Art & Writing American Visions Nominee

Left: Matthew Kirkpatrick and Anthony Abarca

It all started with a 6-year-old boy’s daily commute with his parents and a homeless man playing guitar on a busy northeast Houston street corner. The man serenaded the boy’s mother as the car idled at the red light. The little boy teased his mom that the “guitar man” liked her.

Eleven years later, Aldine Independent School District student artist Anthony Abarca returned to that corner to photograph and meet the man named Northside Ray and tell the old man’s story through imagery.

The teen’s photograph entitled “Love Affair” depicts a weathered homeless man with dried, caked blood on his face. The man’s piercing blue eyes make the case for hope, not despair.

The photo earned the Carver High School senior an American Visions nomination, one of five best-of-show art awards judged in a pool of more than 5,000 entries with Harris County Department of Education as regional affiliate of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Teacher Matthew Kirkpatrick says the often cliché influence of photography on teens via social media and advertising is strong, but he tries to show students the meaningful side of photography.

The storytelling concept stuck with high school senior Abarca.

“It sparked my idea of how every day we see less fortunate people and how we never really get the chance to know their story,” said Abarca, reflecting on his teacher’s influence. “Mr. Kirkpatrick taught me that I can’t be afraid to try new things and that my work must have meaning through a story that I want to tell. I will never forget that and will continue to show it through my work.”

Setting out to find Ray wasn’t that hard. Abarca found the homeless man on the same street corner he left him in his memories a decade before. His decision to photograph Ray helped him understand the plight of the homeless. A twist of fate had put Ray on the street, and he never found his way back.

As Ray grew older, homelessness became more difficult and dangerous. In fact, the day Abarca took the man’s photo, the old man had just been beaten. Two months after taking the photo, Abarca returned to Near Northside to share the photo and an award he had won in a juried art show.

Northside Ray died after being stabbed on the streets. Abarca never got the chance to share Ray’s infamy.

The photograph “Love Affair” will now be judged at the national level through Scholastic Art & Writing in New York City, and that feels good to both student and teacher. Awardees will be notified on March 16, and an awards ceremony will be held in New York City Carnegie Hall in June.

“I am both nervous and excited for Anthony and what this means moving forward,” said Kirkpatrick.

“I appreciate this contest (Scholastic) in comparison to the others that my students participate in for it’s high regard to concept. I often tell my students that this contest will judge their work as that of an adult artist.”

For information about HCDE’s Scholastic Art & Writing 2020 exhibits and receptions or to enter, judge or sponsor the Awards, go to https://hcde-texas.org/scholastic-awards or email Andrea Segraves, asegraves@hcde-texas.org. View the Awards press release: https://wp.me/p4QJFl-18s .

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