The Mission: Photo project documents the humanity, solitude of homelessness in Windsor

Photographer Doug MacLellan set out to document the moments between the drama with intimate portraits in order to share the stories of people who frequent the Downtown Mission.

'Look at the pictures ... see some similarities,' says photographer Doug MacLellan

Chris MacLean is shown in the courtyard of the Downtown Mission. The photo is part of a new book from photographer Doug MacLellan titled The Mission. (Douglas MacLellan)

Chris MacLean beams from the pages of the book with a wide smile stretched across his face.

The 48-year-old is standing in the courtyard of the Downtown Mission, the moment captured by Doug MacLellan — just one of the dozens of shots that make up the Windsor-based photographer's latest project.

It's called The Mission and captures life around the emergency shelter, which provides food packs and hot meals in the heart of the city, through personal stories and portraits.

"There's a story behind each person," said MacLean on Wednesday, urging anyone who picks up the book, which is being released by Black Moss Press this week, to do more than flip through the pictures.

The Mission started off as a project about homelessness, but MacLellan said he soon realized the facility forms its own kind of community.

It's used by some who live on the streets, others who are low income, and people who stop by just to see friends.

"The day-to-day life that happens here, you can never imagine," said MacLellan. "You never know what's going to happen."

The photographer said he was struck by just how rampant the opioid crisis is in Windsor, adding at least five people he knew of died of overdoses during the months he spent there.

"It's a story of solitude. There's a lot of lonely people here."

A security guard tries to motivate an overnight sleeper outside the courtyard to move in order to start the morning breakfast at the Downtown Mission. (Douglas MacLellan)

Photography focused on homelessness is often gritty and harrowing, said MacLellan, but he set out to document the moments between the drama with intimate images in order to show the humanity of people who frequent the Mission.

He visited the site every day or so from July until October, getting to know the people there and building trust, adding the fact people trusted him enough to take their picture is a "gift" he doesn't take lightly.

"I want people to take away the fact that the people you're seeing ... this is the worst-possible times of their lives,  most-likely," he said.

"They're like you and me. When you find yourself in a situation you'll do exactly what they're doing ... scrambling to survive."

WATCH: Doug MacLellan talk about his project

Photographer documents the stories of people who frequent the Downtown Mission

CBC News Windsor

3 months ago
Doug MacLellan has taken dozens of shots for his latest Windsor-based photography project called The Mission. 2:10

Among MacLellan's shots is a tender moment between a young couple lying on the grass together, brightly-coloured toys hanging from a tree branch and a father and son being reunited after five years apart.

There's also a massive feline named Spunky.

The "huge, black cat" weighed 31 pounds and belonged to a man named Albert who was once an understudy for a play on Broadway, according to the photographer.

He saw the pair around a few times then, one day, Spunky took off.

"People were coming up and petting the lovely cat. And then the big damn thing just got away," he said with a chuckle, adding Spunky was surprisingly speedy.

Spunky the 31 pound cat, before it escaped from its owner Albert. (Douglas MacLellan)

MacLean said he has not lived on the street for a long time, but he was going to the Mission for meals until about a month ago. He and MacLellan hit it off right away after bonding over a shared love of music.

"I think it's needed," he said of the new book.

"Hopefully people will notice that the homeless situation in Windsor Ontario and other places has just gotten insane and that it needs to be addressed.'

Drugs and the struggle to find housing continue to plague people in the city, said MacLean who called on anyone who picks up the book to "read the stories."

A husband and wife smile outside the Downtown Mission. (Douglas MacLellan)

That's the photographer's hope too. He said he wants readers to look past their preconceptions and see the people in front of them.

"Look at the pictures. Take more than two seconds to look at them. See the look in people's eyes. See some similarities," he said.

"I hope that when you look at pictures you may want to know more."

Staff at the Downtown Mission smile while working at the front reception area. (Douglas MacLellan)


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