Portraits of Unhoused Life: An Interview with Kim Watson

Apr 17, 2024 10:44:00 AM / by Kim Watson


Kim Watson is the author of Trespass: Portraits of Unhoused Life, Love, and Understanding. We asked Kim a few questions to learn more about the inspiration behind his new collection of profiles, essays, and stunning black-and-white photography that sheds light on the complex situations that lead to homelessness, the individuals who struggle to rise out of it, and those who have resigned themselves to it.


What prompted you to write Trespass?

Many years ago in New York City, I saw a young man digging through a garbage can. When I finally saw his face, I realized he was a childhood friend, Jamie, who I hadn’t seen in years. I stood there, frozen in place, and I watched him walk away without a word. My lack of action haunted me. I vowed I would never again let that happen, so my family and I have tried to help the Unhoused community for years. Four years ago, I decided to document what I was seeing and tell the stories of the friends I’d made. And, through it all, Jamie was right there with me.




What is the main theme of Trespass? Can you say more about this?

I think the primary theme of Trespass is love. It was love that constantly presented itself to me throughout the process. Being that close to individuals suffering the hardships and degradation that is homelessness either brings out our compassion and empathy or our judgment and indifference. Love for and from the individuals featured in the book was the overriding emotion I felt every day. Love is also the word I hear most from people who’ve seen the images and text of Trespass—they are touched and are being exposed to this community as individuals and not as a collection of myths and assumptions that distance us from each other.  


Trespass is a beautiful collection of portraits and stories about the Unhoused in LA. How do you hope this book will affect the assumptions and biases readers may have about this community?

We've all been exposed to this issue in our cities and neighborhoods, where more Unhoused have appeared over the years. I have had the honor of getting to know many, and what I've seen and learned as Unhoused friends opened themselves to me is what I'm sharing in this book, my exhibits, and the documentary I am editing right now. Ignorance breeds misunderstanding. I’m not presenting excuses; I am presenting the varied circumstances and reasons some of these very good people are Unhoused. At the end of the day, I am an artist trying to create art as a tool for change. There are activists who know much more about this than I do, but I'm excited to have the opportunity to expose our shared humanity instead of our differences.




Who is the target audience for your book?

I never thought of a specific audience as the book was coming together. I just shot and wrote as I was moved to do. I knew that people who love the arts would find the photography and writings in the book compelling. I wanted to make a powerful statement about homelessness, but I think Trespass also makes a statement about social justice. People who may not usually buy a book of photographs are attracted to it because of that connection. I think this is an opportunity to reach people who might have had certain negative assumptions about homelessness. It's complicated, and there's no simple answer. I just want to open minds and hearts.   


What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I want to break down barriers and open up the conversation. If there is one takeaway from Trespass, I hope it’s inspiring the desire to play an active role in finding solutions. I don’t think we can afford to sit on the sidelines anymore.




Is there something else you’d like to share that you didn’t share in the book?

I shared this in the book, but I’d like to emphasize that every little bit helps. If we just take a plate of leftovers to someone or look them in the eyes and say “hello,” you’d be amazed at what that small gesture does to make someone feel differently about themselves. Friends drop clothing or food off, or we'd pick up Costco chicken and I'd make rice, and we'd just jump in the car and hand it out. It's not complicated at all. It gives them hope.

We’ve got to fight this issue on many fronts, and it starts with seeing our Unhoused friends, neighbors, and family as human. They are not THEM. They are US.



Click here to learn more about Trespass by Kim Watson.

Topics: Interviews

Kim Watson

Written by Kim Watson

Kim Watson has photographed, directed, and written for Grammy winners, Hollywood Studios, and various entertainment platforms. His current project, TRESPASS, is an in-depth reveal of the homeless of Los Angeles told through photographs, essays, and film. TRESPASS fulfills Watson's life-long dream of creating art as a tool for change.

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