Pam Lewis

New Mexico, USA | Photography

Artist Statement

Years ago, my local paper ran a series about homeless people. One of the photos showed a woman splayed and unconscious in a MacDonald’s toilet stall. I was appalled at the invasion of this woman’s privacy.
I contacted the writer to express my concern and quickly—and brusquely—heard back. The woman had signed a release allowing her photograph to be printed.
The echo of that photograph has always remained with me, and I decided to find a way to photograph unhoused people—not at a distance or surreptitiously. I would find a way to meet people one-on-one and provide a service, taking the photos, making prints, and delivering them the following week. I would give them these small gifts. Maybe people would like it. Maybe not, but at least I’d offer.
Many photographers will tell you that an obstacle to portraiture is getting up the nerve to ask. People almost always say yes, but the introverts among us anguish over this part. I stepped inside the shelter, a long, wide, well-lit room with bunk beds and cots lined up against one wall and comfy sofas against the other. A dozen or so people were there, all shrouded in dark clothing, most in their own worlds, some talking, some asleep on bunks, some slouched on couches.
Several people declined my meek offer to make a portrait until a man named Cory said, “Do I ever!”
I am now known as The Picture Lady.
At first, I photographed using only a handheld camera. But out of respect for the dignity and cooperation of my subjects, I wanted the photographs to be excellent. I now arrive each week with a portable studio consisting of camera, tripod, backdrop and three LED lights. I produce fifteen to twenty prints each week and have no thoughts of stopping.
My intent with these images is to interrupt the appalling stereotyping and disempowerment of people who live without shelter. United only by their lack of money, each of the scores of people I’ve photographed is unique and important. I want people to say, when viewing these images, “Homeless? Really? He/she doesn’t look homeless.”


Artist Bio

Pam was born in Burbank, California to a pair of ambitious parents who moved the family every two years from city to city as her father sought greater responsibilities in the aviation industry. The family eventually settled in New York City long enough for her to attend high school. Shy, observant, and too tall too soon, she worked at various of jobs including computer programmer, Welcome Wagon lady, treasurer to a small corporation, newspaper reporter, swim instructor, and copywriter—all the while writing books in her spare time. She published three novels, short stories, and articles in major publications.
She became interested in photography when her husband died in 2012 and decided to dive in. Wanting something that would get her outdoors and in communication with others, she went at it with a vengeance, taking dozens of online classes, practicing, trying to find a subject that lit her creative and socially conscious imagination.
She attended rodeos and tattoo fiestas, loving her subjects’ one-hundred-percent commitment to what they were doing. She discovered skateboarders and slid down into the bowls of skateparks to photograph from underneath and capture the beauty and determination on the young boarders’ faces.
In 2022, she discovered a community of unhoused people in Albuquerque’s War Zone. Over the past year, she has visited weekly and come to know many of the residents. By now she has photographed over one hundred people. Some live at the shelter, and others live on the street but come to the shelter for meals. Still others are housed but, without enough money to feel themselves and their families, they take their meals at the shelter.
She has learned that only thing uniting these people is that they’ve run out of money. Beyond that, each person is unique and important. This is what she wants to capture.