Get in their homes

By Gus Bode

In order to connect people to your photographs you have to connect with your subject.

The great photographer Robert Cappa once said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Phil Greer, a photojournalist whom I know on a more personal level, can be heard shouting in the halls of the Communication building, “Get in their homes!”

Greer pushed me to find a photo story in the empty streets of Cairo. I would find something, follow it for a while and drop it. I couldn’t find a subject that held my attention or, more importantly, moved me.


I frequented a small diner in Cairo called Nonny’s, a proven place to grab a great burger or strike up conversation. Every time I was in Cairo I found my way into the diner. I would order, start up a conversation, tip the waitress too much and leave. Eventually I got to know the people who worked there and their stories. One in particular got my attention.

Jennifer Beasley, 22, a waitress, is a single mother of three daughters who lives in a three-bedroom trailer with 10 people.

Beasley’s story is the epitome of what I was looking for. After weeks of building a relationship over greasy burgers and fries, she allowed me to document what life was like for her in southern Illinois. She welcomed me into her home. After my first day shooting, I realized what photojournalism was about and the kind of photographer I will become.

I witnessed her tuck three children into her full-size mattress, the same mattress she and her 14-year-old sister would later sleep on. I photographed the oven as it was used to heat the home. With the door fully open and the temperature gauge set to its highest setting, the oven was effective at heating the kitchen and the family room. It did little to heat the bedrooms at both ends of the trailer.

She shared with me her dreams of going to cosmetology school and the reality of her situation. Her life echoed those of Cairo and the rest of southern Illinois – the lack of opportunity leaves progress stagnant and people poor. These lives and stories are the things that can make a difference. Documenting them can shed light on their situation and raise awareness.