Fearless BU photographer shows harsh reality of homeless Boston
You have to see The Other Side of the Tracks by Evan Jones
Evan Jones is intense. He fixated his eyes on the World Star Hip Hop video playing from his laptop. The rap lyrics, “I don’t give a fuck bitch, with or without a condom,” blared from the speakers until his laughter tuned it out. The street fighter in the video was knocked out after being punched in the jaw. Evan’s veins popped out of his neck as his body filled with energy and excitement from even the mindless task of watching a video. This is a state of being in which Evan constantly exists.
“I’m ready whenever you are,” announced Evan over his inked shoulder.
The array of vintage posters and an oddly hung Ethiopian flag covers his dorm wall. His Canon EOS 5D, along with the other objects on his desk, is properly placed forward as if on display at a museum. However, unlike the other gadgets and toys, his camera is the Mona Lisa of the room.
As a kid, Evan hated photography because his father would constantly snap photos of him. “I was just like, ‘Dad, fuck off’ because he would always be up in my face.” But then, like a punch to the face, “It kind of just… happened.” Instead of joining his friends’ shenanigans, Evan began capturing the chaos with photography. “I always got very close in order to make it feel like I was in the action.” His interest in documenting his friends’ lives grew into a passion for documenting everything.
Now 19-years-old, Evan has moved from the outskirts of Philadelphia to attend Boston University as a Photojournalism major. In order to acclimate himself to Boston, Evan began exploring a new section of the diverse city every day. From posh Newberry Street to the classic streets of “Southie”, Evan landed in the depths of photography heaven.
On one lazy day, Evan journeyed across the Boston University Bridge and found railroad tracks that reminded him of home. “I saw these [homeless] people on the side of the tracks,” said Evan.
“At first I was afraid, but then I was like fuck it, I want to get this picture, what’s the worst that can happen?” The nerves that often keep Evan from approaching strangers also drive him to surmount his anxiety. It’s an endless cycle that keeps chasing his ultimate goal: the picture.
According to his close friend, Grace Weinstein, “Evan thrives off of this weird adrenaline that no one else seems to find in ordinary things. It’s his dedication that keeps him going.”
Evan approached the homeless with good intentions and a steady hand, as if he was nearing a wild animal. He maintains a deep fear of imposing by whipping out his camera immediately, because despite the status of his subjects, he feared their judgment.
To Evan’s surprise, they struck up conversation immediately. His new acquaintances introduced him to an entire population of self proclaimed “Track Rats” and according to Evan, he meets a new one with every visit. “It’s like the movie 50 First Dates because every time I go I have to reintroduce everything about myself.”
It’s been eight months now and, according to Evan, going back nearly every day has built a strong bond with them. The Track Rats have given him a different perspective on life, which he captures in the different angles of his photography.
“My life is so different; I just do my schoolwork and fuck around. They sit out there all day hoping they won’t go to prison or relapse again.” Evan continuously expressed his gratitude for the fact that he is able to go to the other side of the tracks without needing to.
“They call me the college kid when I’m over there,” said Evan proudly. “They have a respect for me as a person and a journalist, but they also protect me as a kid too.” This sense of protection makes it easier for Evan to photograph because he feels safe and open.
According to Evan, every trip to the tracks is something different because they are always a “high mess. I have to first go in and help them, pull them back up on their feet. Then they try to act all clean and respectful,” which according to Evan doesn’t last because if he stays long enough they go back to their normal ways. “But since I’ve been going out there for so long, I can tell when they’re acting.”
Overtime, Jimmy Kerr, an ex-heroin user, has become Evan’s favorite Track Rat. His bad knees, severe arthritis, and heavy stature make him stationery, which allows Evan to be mobile and active when photographing him. Evan first found Jimmy sitting alone on two milk crates with a cane. “This dude can’t hurt me, he has a fucking cane,” thought Evan as he approached the stranger.
At first, Jimmy was reluctant to talk to Evan, but now he greets him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, like the true Italian he is.
Evan now only visits the tracks on cloudy days to stick with the consistency of the project. “Every time I’ve gotten a really good picture it’s been overcast. The Track Rats spot has no shade which makes shooting difficult ‘cause of the harsh sunlight.” Similar to his dorm room, Evan strives for perfection in every photo he takes. “I’m obsessed with the lighting,” said Evan. “I try to keep it all the same.”
Evan is still looking for the story behind his project. He has taken over 800 photos and the more he shoots, the more he realizes that what’s most important is the relationship he has built with the Track Rats.
Evan wants to photograph their evolution but explained that it’s hard to when some die, run away, or are incarcerated. Unsure of what to do with the photos, Evan has decided to let them dwell in limbo.
The budding photographer sees no reason in not going back to the tracks day after day since he knew most of them before meeting his friends at BU. “I could go there without a camera and still just chill and talk with them,” said Evan. “Now a days, I definitely feel a sense of guilt when I don’t go and see them, it’s like not going to see your grandparents.”
Even though this project has given him 21.6 gigabytes worth of photos, Evan wants to push himself further. “I want to do something that shows a linear series of events– something with closure– and this is just their lives, they’re out there every day and it’s just going to keep going on like that forever.” With no deadline, Evan has the ability to photograph them until the bitter end.
Whether Evan’s project stays in the confines of his computer or ends up on the walls of a gallery, he will forever be grateful for what he has learned. “These people taught me how to photograph strangers and how to handle real life situations. It’s hard to photograph someone you don’t know because it’s well… awkward.”
Evan’s passion for photography has become a clear addiction to documentation. “I see everything in photographs,” said Evan. “I even move where I am to make the framing look right through my eyes.” Like any artist, he hopes to one day look back and be proud of the work he put the entirety of his youth into. Evan’s roommate, Devaughn Bennett, knows how deeply “he prides himself on his photos” and how they “play such an important role in his life. They make him who he is,” said Bennett.
Fear of the future overwhelms Evan since he is repeatedly told photography is a dying craft. However, he is still convinced “it will just change and evolve as it has throughout history.”
Unsure of the exact path he wants to take, Evan expressed interest in conflict photography. War reporting fuels his passion for powerful, raw images, yet he feels that the risk may outweigh the reward: “People think dying as a reporter is honorable, but honestly you could just die a nobody. I’d rather build something for myself than just getting a bullet in the head. I don’t want all my images to just be a remembrance of me, I want to make something of them.”