All photos: Nick Cosky
A photographer’s passion for capturing the beauty of Boston has developed into a passion for helping the city’s people in need. “Every location that my photography brought me I would see people who were homeless or in need,” said Nick Cosky of Newton, MA.
Cosky described how his project began one chilly November night while he was taking long exposure photos of the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. “I was complaining internally about the cold and my temporary lack of comfort when [I saw a few] feet to my left … a man sleeping on a bench with some bags tucked underneath and a blanket wrapped around him,” said Cosky.
During his ride home that night, Cosky decided he wanted to start distributing clothes to those in need. He donated some of his own clothes first. Then word of mouth took over and he started collecting from family, friends and co-workers.
“I’ve been able to give out countless carloads of clothes,” Cosky said. As the donations continued to come in, Cosky found a way to incorporate his photography into the project.
“I got the idea to do a portrait book that had images of the people I’ve been meeting along with a small story to accompany it,” Cosky said. Thereafter, he started taking their pictures and doing brief write-ups on the encounters.
“The stories are not sob stories,” Cosky said. “They are summaries of the conversation and what I take away from them.” Cosky teamed up with his friend, Matteo Urella, who is helping with the writing component of the project. “We will be co-writing it, but it’s his storytelling skills that will really make it shine,” Cosky said.
Cosky says the proceeds from the portrait book will be going to Pine Street Inn, which has temporary housing and helps identify permanent housing for the homeless. “For me, the biggest part of this project is stopping and making the offer of the clothes and having a conversation,” Cosky explained. “Not everyone wants them, but I think it’s important to offer the help and let them know there are people that care.”
Cosky and Urella are interested in releasing multiple editions of the portrait book. Cosky said he doesn’t ask to take every person’s picture because he understands it can put someone in a vulnerable position. “People often don’t want that part of their life captured,” Cosky said. “I can usually tell if they are receptive to photos after talking for a few minutes.”
While some people may shy away from the camera, others ask to have their picture taken when Cosky tells them he’s a photographer. The fact that someone takes the time to notice them seems to give these people a sense of empowerment.
The individuals in Cosky’s photographs, which he shares on social media, exude confidence and hope. This is an ongoing project because homelessness is an ongoing issue, Cosky said. “I’m always going to be in the city taking photos and unfortunately, will likely always be seeing people living on the streets,” he added.
He also said this project has changed his outlook on life, as it’s made him take fewer things for granted. He feels more positive about life.
“So many of the people I spend time with are able to maintain a positive attitude in hard times and it’s a startling reminder to be grateful for what you have. All of the conversations stick out,” he said.
One particular interaction that Cosky recalls was when he started a conversation with a man by saying, “So how’s it going?” and the man’s response was, “Can’t complain.” Cosky said he thinks about this simple yet powerful statement all the time.
Cosky has also noticed a deep level of compassion for one another within Boston’s homeless community. “Many of them look out for each other and spend time together,” he said. “As bad as a situation they may find themselves in, they are still willing to help someone else out.”
Cosky pointed out that many people who are not homeless could learn from these lessons, and he’s received amazing support and feedback from people who have seen the project.
“I hope that it encourages people to help when they can,” Cosky said. Homelessness is a widespread issue and, therefore, requires a great deal of attention, from multiple angles, Cosky said.
“My mission in this isn’t to undermine the many fantastic organizations that are doing work to help the homeless population and end homelessness,” Cosky said. “I’m trying to show it is possible to help someone as an individual [and] that [this] can make an impact.”