Billy is a common sight on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno. This photo was taken by Michael "Papa Mike" McGarvin. Photo by Mike McGarvin.

published on June 15, 2018 - 12:53 PM
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Michael “Papa Mike” McGarvin first became intimate with Fresno’s homeless problem while working as a photographer for The Fresno Bee. Before that, he’d witnessed poverty while living in San Francisco in the height of the Hippie Movement.

Wanting to help, Papa Mike started by handing out peanut butter sandwiches to the needy — these efforts would eventually lead to Downtown Fresno’s Poverello House. He would remain active with this organization until his death last July.

Now, a year after his passing, the Poverello House will pay tribute to McGarvin, his photography and his legacy. Scheduled for July 5 at the Jeffrey Scott Agency, the View to the Soul exhibit will display pictures taken by Papa Mike and others to showcase the plight of the homeless in Fresno.

“One of the biggest blessings that the Pov had was his vision and his insight with our homeless population and how he started,” said Poverello House CEO Cruz Avila. “And we wanted to pay a tribute to Papa Mike and just kind of see through his lens, and see through his eyes what he saw on the streets.”

As a part of the ArtHop event, photography will also be displayed by six local professionals, along with those by 20 clients equipped with disposable cameras.

One participant in the project was photographer Peter Herzog, who took more than 1,000 pictures in five shoots over a four-week period in Fresno and Huron. For Herzog, the undertaking became a learning experience, one that brought him face-to-face with the homeless problem.

“I did not pay a lot of attention, perhaps even avoided eye contact with homeless people,” Herzog said. “Yet after taking time talking with them over the last several months, that has traumatically changed how I see them… as part of our community and indeed are our neighbors.”

Freelancer Joel Pickford was another photographer to take part in the exhibit. In the eight-hour day he spent taking pictures, he shot somewhere between 700 and 800 frames. During the shoot, Pickford said that he was impressed by the resourcefulness of the homeless population.

“It takes a lot of skills to be homeless person,” he said.

Pickford elaborated that in order to survive on the streets, one has to not only be able to scrounge for essential goods, but also be familiar with city ordinances and deal with the police.

Project participant Guillermo Magana, however, is already familiar with the homeless plight from personal experiment. Homeless since 2001, Magana has made on-and-off stays at the Poverello House since then. He is now eight months into his current and longest stay.

Given a disposable camera for the event, Magala had just 20 shots to capture what he sees and lives daily. And despite the misconception often laid upon the homeless, he stated that they are no different than anyone else. They are — whatever the circumstance — human.

“There’s a lot of beautiful people here,” Magana said. “To me, everyone is beautiful to be honest with you.”

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