"Becoming Visible" Exhibit at Cherry Center

Some of the women stare directly at you.  Others turn away, or look down, their faces downcast.  Two of the women are looking up, their heads craning skyward, as if to connect to a more hopeful place where life will be better.  Each woman is different, her eyes, face, expression, and stance conveying her own unique story.  What these women have in common is that they are homeless.

The three photographers of “Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County,” a powerful, must-see exhibit at the Carl Cherry Center, in Carmel, use varying techniques and approaches to communicate something real about these women’s lives.  Ken Wanderman, working in color with a digital camera, offers charged glimpses of local homelessness, from the two women in “Bad News” who sit crouched on a log, their faces bent over in worry, to the older woman in “Sun” with glistening skin and closed eyes who opens her hands and arms to the sky in a gesture of surrender and turns her face upward, basking in the light, as a blur of seagull hovers above.

In two portraits by Lina Vital, who also works digitally in color, the women stare at the viewer with creased and reddened faces, their expressions a map of such raw feeling and pain it is hard to hold their gaze.  But holding their gaze is the least we can do, to witness and honor the stoicism, fatigue and sadness in “Charlene,” the fierce sorrow and grit in “Tasha.”  For people living in such desperate circumstances, sometimes just standing up is an act of courage.

Margo Duvall’s silver gelatin black-and-white portraits carry the deeper gravity of darkroom photography, the respectful weight of time spent in these women’s presence.  In “Maria,” a woman’s head is turning up as she points with a finger.  “Look!” she seems to be saying, as surprise and a kind of cheerful curiosity flit across her face.

But in “Maria at Ft. Ord,” the same woman stands, her back to the viewer, in a desolate landscape of ice plant and low, anonymous housing.  She is barefoot, her hands on her hips, a figure of loneliness and isolation.

In several of Duvall’s portraits, the women gaze at the viewer with a determination to smile; in lives so marked by loss, these women have not lost their kindness.

“Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County,” at the Carl Cherry Center, at 4th and Guadeloupe, in Carmel, through December 14.

The Women of Whimsy, a Monterey-based improv troupe, will perform on Saturday, November 24, at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $15 and will benefit efforts to support local homeless women.