Why am I doing this…

I have been taking pictures of rock bands since I was 14 years old, it all started with a very loud AC/DC concert in Amsterdam in 1979.  I moved to L.A. in 1986 and landed in the middle of the hair metal scene, the Sunset Strip became my new stomping ground, photographing every rock band I came across.

That was a magical time in Rock & Roll and I got to photograph bands like Motley Crue, ZZ-Top, Poison, Bon Jovi, Stryper, Judas Priest, Metallica, Van Halen, Ozzy, Motorhead, and many more.  I expanded and also got into photographing fashion and movie stars.

In 2009 I got into L.A. politics.  I documented a campaign for Los Angeles City Attorney and after the candidate won, I ended up with my own office in Los Angeles City Hall.  The L.A. City Attorney’s office and the District Attorney’s Office took on some of the major problems on L.A.’s Skid Row.  I had a front row seat and got to document many of the activities.

After 25+ years in L.A. photographing bands, movie stars and politicians, I moved to beautiful Redding in northern California to raise my twin daughters.

When I opened my studio in downtown Redding, some people told me to ‘beware of the homeless problem’ in this town.  I looked around and asked, “WHAT problem?”  Now, to be fair, my frame of reference for homeless ‘problems’ up to this point was skid row in Los Angeles.  The last gig I had in L.A. was working with the L.A. City Attorney’s office and members of the District Attorney’s office, tasked with ‘cleaning up’ skid row.  There are thousands of people living on the streets in L.A. and there is A LOT of real crime, from assaults and robberies to murders, kidnapping, drug trafficking, gang violence, sex trafficking, patient dumping by hospitals, and much more.  Cleaning up skid row is a daunting task and in my opinion it is a REAL problem.

I didn’t see anything like that on this scale, here in Redding.  I am not intending to minimize any criminal behavior that goes on here, but I wasn’t convinced it was a homeless problem.

So I immediately took the side of the underdog.  It’s just how I am.  I decided I was going to ‘grab a few homeless people’, bring them into the studio and photograph them just like I would a rock star in L.A.  And I was going to interview them, but not about their homeless situation, but just like I would my friends.  I wanted to create some relate-ability specifically FOR THE COMMUNITY to show that these people are individuals with the same hopes, dreams and life experiences that we all have.

Once I started on the project and got some people involved, I was shocked at how much I learned, myself.  I was also shocked at how the entire atmosphere within the studio shifted once we got started.  It was obvious that we were accomplishing more than mere relate-ability.

Many of these people had never had their picture taken or their hair and makeup done before, and they especially had not had anyone inquire as to who they are as individuals.  “Who are you?”  is a powerful question to ask someone who has not been asked that before.

For myself, there was a huge transformation.  These people went from ‘homeless people’ to Muriel, Steven, Jody, Harry, Debbie, Jessie, Robert, Jeanette, Karen, Vance… and the list goes on.

It turned out that not only were we creating relate-ability for the community, we were boosting these people’s self esteem and once they got going, THEY were boosting THEIR OWN self esteem – and in turn, they boosted OUR self esteem.  It was amazing.

By calling them and treating them like Rock Stars, we were able to get some self expression out of our models, and some people actually ended up going home and getting their life back on track, because of this boost in self esteem.

Really!?  Could it be this easy!?

Even though we didn’t ask, by getting to know these Rock Stars on a one-on-one basis, we were able to catch glimpses of why they might be in the situation they are in.  And therefore MAYBE a ticket out of homelessness.

Yes, many of the stories are heart wrenching and you have to work through it.  I mean, when someone says their greatest accomplishment was holding their parents in their arms while they died, how do you handle that?  With kid gloves of course.  But that person is not the problem.

Since starting this project, I have been amazed at the incredible community support for what we are doing and how many people have come forth to be Rock Star Promoters.

I thank you for being an important part in changing the conversation!

Rock on,

Nigel Skeet