It wasn’t Louise Vuitton, Armani or any of the high-end fashion boutiques in Milan, Italy that caught Magdalena “Magi” Kernan’s eye. It was the homeless man sitting on the sidewalk outside the bustling storefronts that grabbed her attention.
The senior Political Science major, who was half way around the world from her hometown of Ocean City, pulled out her camera to document the man who seemed invisible to many of the passersby. Unbeknownst to her, that would become her first of many more pictures of the homeless.
Kernan studied abroad at the Universidad of Catolica in Milan during the spring semester of her sophomore year. “I always knew that I wanted to study abroad,” she said.
During that semester, she used every second of her spare time to “experience the culture” through backpacking, staying at hostels and “roughing it” through the countryside of 14 different countries.
She felt very much at home in Italy thanks to Dr. Lucio Privitello, associate professor of Philosophy and Religion, who grew up in the country. Privitello connected Kernan with former Stockton students who were in Italy at the time and periodically checked in with her via Skype. She quickly found comfort in a foreign place, enjoying family dinners and gelato with her new friends.
Upon returning home, she discovered a familiar sight. She saw what she first noticed in Milan and describes as a “stark contrast” on the streets of Atlantic City. Outside the Pier shops, she observed people walking right by the homeless. “I don’t get it,” she said.
She wanted to focus on this social issue more deeply through her lens. Dr. Joseph Rubenstein, professor of Anthropology, asked Kernan to take portraits of the homeless at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission last year.
“Magi first took my Visual Anthropology class where she distinguished herself immediately with her good eye for composition. Over the course of the term she developed an understanding of the role of the anthropological photographer and began making pictures that represented social life and cultural values,” Rubenstein said.
The homeless portraits she produced at the Rescue Mission were exhibited next to paintings of the homeless by artist Seth Camm at the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton College last winter in the exhibit “Finding Home.”
After the course ended, Kernan was not ready to stop her efforts, so Rubenstein put her in touch with Alex Siniari, an outreach worker for the Rescue Mission. Over the past month, she has worked closely with him to continue creating portraits of the homeless.
Kernan walked the streets with Siniari and accompanied police officers on sweeps through the city and under the boardwalk. She had long conversations with the individuals she photographed.
The photo project has made Kernan want to give back, so she organized a fund-raising event, “Faces of the Homeless,” where she will exhibit her portraits.
The Sunday, January 19 event at the Melting Pot restaurant will feature a silent auction and live music with hors d’oeuvres and drinks specials provided by the restaurant. Proceeds will aid the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and the Covenant House.
“I want to give faces to the homeless and connect people to the pictures,” she said.
“Everyone can give back. There are so many ways to get involved,” she said.
If you’re a hair dresser, you could give a free haircut she explained.
One week after the event, Kernan will board a plane to Equatorial Guinea, a small island that is part of the only Spanish-speaking African country. She will be interning with a non-profit to help establish a women’s group. The two-and-a-half-month internship serves as an independent study that will allow Kernan to complete the requirements for a Public Health minor.
“Use your talents. Everyone has something they can contribute,” Kernan said.
Check out Kernan’s photography on Facebook at Magdalena K Photography.