'Shocked and devastated' — photo series to reveal faces of cancelled basic income project

Jessie Golem is hoping Humans of Basic Income will give participants a voice and help them share their story and combat stigma.

'It's been both heartbreaking and beautiful to meet these people,' says Jessie Golem

This Hamilton man is one of the basic income pilot project recipients to be featured by photographer Jessie Golem in her photo essay about the damage done by the cancellation of the project. (Jessie Golem)

A Hamilton photographer is working to show the human side of the Ford government's decision to end Ontario's basic income pilot project. 

Jessie Golem was one of the more than 4,000 people from Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County who signed up for the program with hopes of a creating a better quality of life using its monthly basic income payments.

News of the government's decision to end the pilot early left her feeling "shocked and devastated" — not to mention powerless.

Now she's turning her lens on dozens of others caught up in the same situation in hopes of giving them a voice to share their story and combat stigma through a photo series called Humans of Basic Income.

"The whole plan is to add a human element to the story and to show that these people weren't using basic income to sit around all day and be lazy … they were bettering their lives." 
Jessie Golem says the Humans of Basic Income series has been both "heartbreaking and beautiful." ( Danielle Da Silva)

While the reaction to the photos, which are also shared on social media, has largely been positive, Golem said she still hears from people who say the participants should quit whining and get a job.

The photographer said what those critics don't seem to realize is that the vast majority of people on the program are already working, but having a basic income give them the little bit extra they needed to lead better lives.

"This is about giving people the chance to talk to the public and say 'This is what we were using it for, we were going to help the economy, we were going to get better jobs and move into safer housing and get out of poverty,'" she explained.

Golem is now planning to shoot up to 100 portraits to complete the series. (Humans of Basic Income/Jessie Golem)

The original goal was to gather 50 simple portraits showing pilot participants holding up a sheet of paper explaining how the project made their lives better.

But Golem said she's already shot 31 people and is now aiming for about 100 photos.

She's planning a trip to Thunder Bay next week and is actively trying to arrange a visit to Lindsay to meet with participants there.

"I hope that this is giving people a voice and a chance to say something," she said, adding the series is the most powerful project she's worked on to date.

"It's been both heartbreaking and beautiful to meet these people."

Hamilton photographer Jessie Golem is planning to shoot up to 100 portraits to show the human impact of the Ford government's decision to halt the Ontario basic income pilot project. (Jessie Golem/Humans of Basic Income)