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Photographer Starts Project Shooting Homeless People, Discovers Her Dad is One of Them

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Diana Kim is a 30-year-old photographer based in O’ahu, Hawaii. She was introduced to photography at a young age by her father, who owned a photography studio.

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Kim told NBC News of her father:

“Some of the earliest memories I have of my father is of him giving me Ring Pop candies whenever my mother and I would visit him. I had an insatiable craving for sweets and he would go behind my mother’s back and sneak me gummy bears and Ring Pops.”

Kim’s parents eventually separated, and her father left the family when she was only 5. Afterward, she struggled to find a permanent place to live, spending the years at relatives’ and friends’ homes, parks and cars. She said:

“I always thought of it as ‘roughing it,’ so it didn’t really bother me. My survival instincts were always strong.”

In 2003, Kim began photographing homeless people on the street as part of a personal project. 

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Kim told NextShark:

“I first started photographing the homeless community in my first year of college. I gravitated towards the homeless because in some ways I identified with their struggle. I knew what it meant to be discarded, to be neglected, and to not have the stability and economic freedom I wanted. Overall, I understood their struggle because I struggled in the same way.”

In 2012, during one of her photography shoots on the streets of Honolulu, Kim saw her father among the homeless people she was documenting at the time. 

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She was devastated. Her father had lost an incredible amount of weight and was suffering from severe schizophrenia. She hesitated in approaching him at first because she didn’t know how, but then, according to Kim:

“I eventually did walk up to him at the corner of the intersection and called out to him. He didn’t respond or turn around, so I stood there trying to get him to look at me and acknowledge me. It was at that moment when a woman came up to me and said, ‘Don’t bother, he stands there all the time.'”

“Part of me wanted to scream at the woman, and the world, for being so callous. Yell that he was my father, and that she was heartless not to care. But none of that would change the circumstances. So instead of screaming, I faced her and said, “I have to try.”

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“There were nights when I wouldn’t find him. And other days when I least expected it, and he would be standing on the corner of a street. He suffered from severe schizophrenia, and left untreated, he was not always responsive. There were many instances when it appeared as if he was arguing with someone, but nobody was there.” she told NBC.

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Kim spent nearly a year and a half trying to rehabilitate her father. She documented this process on her personal blog, which she hoped would help “humanize homelessness.” 

“Photography is not just about creating images — it is my window to experiencing the world and sharing relationships with people and things that I am drawn to. Looking through the lens and capturing that moment also captures my feelings in that moment. My goal, long before my father ever became homeless, was to humanize those who lived on the streets. They each have a story, and I hope that by sharing my own story, it helps to give new perspective.”

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Due to his mental health problems, Kim had a hard time convincing her dad to get the help he needed to get back on his feet.

“I can’t count the number of times I sat next to my father on the street, wondering how his future would look like. I would sit there and pray quietly, just asking for a miracle and wishing that he would accept assistance. He would refuse to get treatment, take any medications, eat, bathe, or wear new clothes. I wasn’t sure if he would get better. There were times when I thought he would die there on that street.” she told NBC.

Then one day, Kim’s father had a heart attack on the street and someone called for help. He was taken to a hospital for care.

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His heart attack proved to have a silver lining, however, as it lead him to eventually receive help through a treatment plan. According to Kim, her father is much improved and doing well nowadays.

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“My dad spends a lot time with friends and is actively looking for a job. We recently completed an online application for a part-time job! He would love to be employed so he can earn a little bit of income and feel productive again. Got any leads?”

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It makes me happy to know that he is living a “normal life” again. It feels really, really good. And I want the same for others who are going through what I went through with my dad.”

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Kim told NextShark:

“I have learned to continue embracing personal and spiritual challenges as an opportunity for growth. During the two years that my father was homeless, I saw him more than I had ever seen him throughout my entire life. There were moments when I walked away feeling defeated and hopeless because nothing seemed to be getting through to him. But I always managed to somehow go back and keep holding onto hope. Life itself is a gift. I am so grateful to see him alive and doing better. I appreciate what we have right here, right now.”

Kim recently raised over $10,000 on Kickstarter to back her photographic project. You can check out her other work on her website

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