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Roderick by Nolwen Cifuentes
From a series on the day in the life of RoderickCourtesy of Nolwen Cifuentes

Removing the stigma of homelessness through skateboarding

These photos document the passionate story of a nomadic young skater, brimming with energy but with no place to call ‘home’

Los Angeles will always be known as the City of Angels, but beyond its Hollywood glamour, shimmering skyscrapers and swanky storefronts, its population of homeless people is rapidly growing. From Skid Row to Venice Beach, encampments of destitute citizens, caught out by one of the U.S. cities’ fastest rising rental prices, scatter the metropolis. The problem has got so severe that, for the first time in two decades, the City Council declared a state of emergency in September to tackle its humanitarian crisis.

Up until recently, one young man who was living in the thick of this crisis was the skater Roderick – the subject of a “day in the life” series by LA-based photographer Nolwen Cifuentes. “I found Roderick through this Facebook group that I’m part of”, Cifuentes explains. Drawn to his story, she emailed Roderick, asking to follow him around the city with a 35mm film camera in hand. “I wanted to sleep where he was going to sleep, eat what he eats, and just experience his life through his eyes.”

Motivating Cifuentes’ project was a goal to “break down barriers of what we perceive as homeless or poor.” Eschewing the stigmatisation of vagrant people as “crazy, drug addicts (and) lazy”, Cifuentes wanted to “personalise the experience of being alone and homeless in a city like LA”, especially as Roderick “was just a kid whose family completely deserted him and had nowhere to go.” But rather than falling into a pitfall of pity by orienting the series around his dollarless life, she aimed to get across Roderick’s passion for skating, determination and infectious personality.

“The people we met during the day don’t even know that he’s homeless, they don’t ask about his life. He told me, ‘those people they don’t even know my name’” – Nolwen Cifuentes

In the baking Californian sun, Cifuentes captured him skating in the parks and streets of LA, along with the people they met along the way. She recollects, “When Roderick spoke, he would speak with such intensity. Everyone would stop talking to listen to him, everyone on the street was sort of drawn to him”. But, as Roderick revealed to Cifuentes on one of his many al fresco nights, “the people we met during the day don’t even know that he’s homeless, they don’t ask about his life. He told me, ‘those people they don’t even know my name.’”

Given Roderick’s situation Cifuente admits that it was difficult to sustain the fly-on-the wall approach that she had originally intended. “I wanted to be this outsider, no bias, no feelings, just taking photos”, she says. In the end, she couldn’t help the “wave of sadness” that a taster of his life inflicted on her. Nonetheless, her photographic series captures the A-side to Roderick’s nomadic story. She reflects, “I don’t know many people that could keep the passion and determination he has through all the struggles he’s been through.”

See more work from Cifuentes here, or follow her on Instagram here