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JOE RAMOS Photography

©Joe Ramos 2013 All Rights Reserved

"I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything." ~ John Steinbeck



October 2013

For the past three years I've been working as the book designer for the California Society of Printmakers' book, California Society of Printmakers: One Hundred Years, 1913 – 2013. It was a difficult though satisfying project. The 330 page, lavisly illustrated book documents 100 years of CSP's history and features the prints and biographies of 320 current members. The book was edited by Editor, Maryly Snow and Assistant Editor Sylvia Solocheck Walters, with essays by Daniel Lienau, Art Hazelwood, Sylvia Solochek Walters, Sherry Smith Bell and David R. Jones. Maryly Snow wrote an extensive and informative history of the orgaization. The book recently arrived from the printer and is available

March 8, 2012

Subtle faces of homelessness in Acknowledged

By: Murray Paskin | 03/08/12 9:16 Am

Special To The San Francisco Examiner

Vivid images Joe Ramos evocative portraits of clients of Project Homeless Connect are on view at the San Francisco Public Library.

Since 2006, Joe Ramos has been photographing clients of Project Homeless Connect, a clearinghouse of sorts of nonprofit medical and social services for the homeless in San Francisco. His photos serve as documentation for the agency.

What at first might have been civic duty clearly became a labor of love for Ramos, whose passion shows in the richness and skill displayed in 53 photos, selected out of thousands, that make up Acknowledged. The exhibition is on view through March 25 at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

The portraits are not what many might expect. They are not images of the disheveled beggars whom San Franciscans are accustomed to seeing asleep on Market Street.

Although hurt and sadness are apparent, and understandable, in the photos, Ramos subtlety gives the images an intriguing depth that might go unnoticed with a quick glance. Still, an undeniable sense of courage and dignity stands out in all of the works by the photographer, who considers himself a documentarian.  

Narratives accompanying many of the portraits add even more meaning.

Kendra, for example, a straightforward and powerful portrait, grips the viewer because of the strength of the subjects gaze. No one would feel sorry for her.

In Charles, another particularly expressive photo, the mans face takes up almost the whole frame, intensifying an essential sadness, but without self-pity.

Ramos, originally from the Salinas Valley, studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute with Richard Conrat, who assisted master photographer Dorothea Lange. Her influence is exceptionally strong in his work, which also has been exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the Bay Area.

February 4, 2012

Points of Light Blog

Youre Not Invisible!The Photographer Who Sees The Homeless

Posted on February 2, 2012 by chelsea murphy

Todays post is written by ShawnAnderson, best-selling author national speaker on maximizing potential and going the extra mile. Shawn is also the Founder of, a non-profit that led the charge in encouraging 228 U.S. mayors in all 50 states to declare November 1, 2011, as Extra Mile Daya day to acknowledge the capacity we each have to create positive change in our families, organizations and world.

Joe Ramos is an amazing photographer.

In looking at the faces of his cameras targets, you feel things. You feel the lives of the people whom his lens has captured. In their eyesin their facesJoes work tells a life story without words. His photographs see beyond the smile; they see into the life of the person. The good timesthe bad timesyou feel them. A Joe Ramos photograph just doesnt capture beauty and ego, it captures life.

At an early age, Joe developed a lasting sensitivity towards those who were struggling and doing their best to find a foot-hold niche in life. Born to California labor camp working parents, Joe grew up living and working in the camps. Wages were low, there was no health insurance, and many of the simple standards we all take for granted in our homes today were absent in these communal living environments. When winters came and work was scarce, Joes father often had to borrow money from the single men in the labor camp who didnt have a family to support. Survival was the focus.

Remembering those early days of struggleremembering how hard life can beremembering how important it is to step forward and help someone elsethose lessons still live with Joe Ramos now in his sixties. The deep-seated compassion for how hard some people have to work to survive has never left him. He doesnt forget his roots.

Nobody should ever feel invisible.

Now, six times a year Joe Ramos makes a visit to San Franciscos Homeless Connect. During those visits, Joe takes his God-given talent and the lessons he learned growing upand he gives back to those who are struggling. He takes portrait photographs of the homeless and makes them feel visible once again. In fact, he has easily taken over 1,500 portraits.

What makes it special about shooting a homeless persons picture? Lots.

Nobody should ever feel invisible in life, and Joe Ramos does what he can to make sure that the homeless of San Francisco can be seen. With his time, his talent, and his money, Joe Ramos gives back visibility. At his expense, he clicks, develops and hands back what he shoots. He mails the portraits to general delivery addresses. He mails them to family members so that they will know their person is still visible.

In life, sometimes it is so easy to disappear in a crowd. Sometimes it is easy to feel as if you are just a number in a world of other numbers. Call a service vendor and the first thing you are asked for is your account number. We are becoming a world of numbersand in doing soa bit of our humanity seems to be escaping. Imagine how much more that feeling must be magnified when you are alone in this world and on the streets.

Joe Ramos roots remind him of the importance of being seen. Thats why he sets out to acknowledge others in the most decent and human way he can. I see you, my friend. You matter. Let me take your picture.

Note: Fifty of Joe's portraits taken through his volunteer effort with Homeless Connect are currently on exhibit at San Franciscos Main Branch Library. The exhibit is called Acknowledged and runs through 3/24/12.

January 30, 2012



'Acknowledged': San Francisco Photographer Captures The Faces Of Homelessness (PHOTOS)

By Robin Wikley HUFFINGTON POST - January 30, 2012

"Not all homeless people are addicts," said Garry to photographer Joe Ramos. "Some people try to better themselves."

Garry has been living with his high school sweetheart, Vanessa, and their four-year-old son in a San Francisco family shelter since leaving behind a toxic drug environment in Victorville. The couple struggles however, as Garry has neither a GED nor high school diploma. Though he is a carpenter, he cannot afford tools, making it almost impossible to find work. "Our son doesn't even realize we are homeless," said Vanessa.

Garry and Vanessa's is just one of the stories collected by local photographer Joe Ramos for his exhibit, "Acknowledged," showing now at the San Francisco Public Library.

Ramos is a volunteer at San Francisco's Project Homeless Connect (a one-stop-shop event for homeless services), and started shooting portraits of clients at PHC in an effort to give a personal face and voice to homelessness. "I initially was reluctant to take the portraits but something in me said, 'do it,'" said Ramos to The Huffington Post. For Ramos, who grew up in a farm labor camp in Salinas, the project became a personal one. "I get quite emotional going in the gallery. It's overwhelming seeing the portraits hanging on the gallery walls."

Twice a month, Ramos set up a backdrop with one simple light and a chair inside of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium at PHC. After clients received dental and medical referrals, DMV identification cards, glasses, wheel chair repairs and other services, some sat down in Ramos's chair and told him their stories.

"In essence I'm a sort of Main Street portrait photographer, only the clients are dealing with homelessness and poverty when they come to me," said Ramos. "Afterwards, I send them the portraits by mail, which is sometimes problematic because many don't have homes. Most of the addresses I get on the consent forms are for general delivery, shelters, single room occupancy addresses and often they just tell me to send the photographs to a relative." With "Acknowledged," Ramos's work has a home.

While San Francisco is rife with images of poverty, "Acknowledged" is especially unique because it rejects the typical associations of homelessness. As the San Francisco Bay Guardian pointed out:

Images of homelessness are not hard to come by. These scenes are often pathetic, cliched. In the worst cases, the homeless are portrayed as inhuman heaps of blanket and facial disfigurement, people reduced to their time spent sleeping on the streets or begging for money. But in "Acknowledged," unhoused subjects are shown in a way thats truly radical: as people just like us.

"Acknowledged" delivers true stories and real people, removing the element of disaster porn that all too often paints our perceptions of homelessness.

"To date, I've taken portraits of over 1,500 people," said Ramos. "I don't plan on stopping any time soon."

See a few of Ramos's images in the slideshow below, and visit the San Francisco Public Library through March 25 to check out "Acknowledged."

1/27/12 Review in the SF Bay Guardian

Headshots for the homeless? Photographer Joe Ramos connects art and social work

By Ali Lane - San Francisco Bay Guardian - January 27, 2012

Images of homelessness are not hard to come by. These scenes are often pathetic, clichéd. In the worst cases, the homeless are portrayed as inhuman heaps of blanket and facial disfigurement, people reduced to their time spent sleeping on the streets or begging for money. But in Acknowledged, photographer Joe Ramos exhibit at the Main Library that opens Sat/28, unhoused subjects are shown in a way thats truly radical: as people just like us.

The tradition of using poor peoples' image as exploitative art can be traced back to Jacob Riiss photos of New York City tenement housing in his 1890 photojournalism book How the Other Half Lives. The project launched a spate of tenement tourism among the upperclass in New York City -- a phenomenon which finds its equivalent today in the slum tours conducted in Mumbai, Rio, Nairobi, and other developing cities.

The stated intention of these enterprises is admirable: to raise awareness of a societal problem that needs to be addressed. But their results can be a dehumanization and objectification of the other half, the poor becoming art and entertainment rather than harbingers of a culture gone awry and, most importantly, fellow human beings.

But that is why Ramoss photography project is so exceptional. Instead of randomly snapping pictures of the homeless on the street, the photographer works for Project Homeless Connect, a non-profit that provides medical and social services to the homeless in San Francisco. For the past six years, Ramos has been photographing program participants -- he told the Guardian, at their own request.

The results are striking, studio-style portraits in both color and black-and-white. For Acknowledged's exhibition, many of the pictures are displayed alongside stories and interviews. Respect, empathy, and a strange glamor suffuse each portrait.

Like John Steinbeck, Ramos was born and raised in Salinas, California. Mentored by Richard Conrat the former assistant of the famed photographer of Dust Bowl families, Dorothea Lange, Ramos brings a neo-Depression era aesthetic to his work. As the child of farmhands, he understands poverty. Ramos subjects are not the other -- they are unmistakably like any of us, after a bout of bad luck or a few missed paychecks.

In a recent phone interview with the Guardain, Ramos was emphatic about his projects goals. There are as many reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people, he said. Not all of them are out on the street. Many are in the shelter system. There are families with children in the school system who are technically homeless.

He said because of this invisible class of struggling, unhoused people, most of us dont associate homelessness with anything other than the panhandler on the corner of Geary and Powell Streets. Through his work, Ramos wants to show the true face of homelessness -- in all its complexity, dignity, and humanity.

Acknowledged features portraits of well-dressed, loving families. There is the man in a business suit with haunting eyes who lost his way after accidentally causing a fatal accident. There are transgender adults who faced harsh family rejection, discrimination, and unemployment as a result of their need to express what they felt inside.

Ramos says that after hearing his subjects stories, he finds himself befriending them, seeing them again and again. He has photographed some of them up to 10 times. After each photo is developed, he sends a copy to his subject, or their subjects family upon request. Sometimes his portraits are used to show family back home that estranged members are doing all right.

Ramos subjects pose on a completely voluntary basis. While his project is undoubtedly artistic, its hard not to see it through another lens: as a free studio portrait service for those who would never be able to record their lives in any other way. The surprising sense of ease visible in the photos faces makes sense. These people are clients, not art objects. They feel at ease because they feel acknowledged.


"ACKNOWLEDGED: Portraits by Joe Ramos

for Project Homeless Connect"

January 28 to March 25, 2012

San Francisco Main Branch Library

Jewett Gallery (lower level)

100 Larkin St. (Civic Center)

San Francisco, CA 94102

Since 2006 San Francisco Photographer Joe Ramos has been taking portraits for San Francisco's Project Homeless Connect, a non-profit organization that offers services to the city's poor and homeless in bi-monthly events held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. He has taken over 1500 portraits at these events and the archive of images has become a compendium of compelling portraits. Ramos is comfortable taking portraits which is evident in these images. His sensitivity towards his subjects and the trust they give in return imbue his images with great strength.

55 of these portraits, many with accompanying stories, will be displayed in an exhibition titled Acknowledged: Portraits by Joe Ramos for Project Homeless Connect at the San Francisco Main Branch Library's Jewett Gallery from January 28 to March 24, 2012. There will be an opening reception and panel discussion on a community's response to homelessness on Saturday, January 28, 2012, 2pm in the Koret Auditorium, lower level, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, 94102.

Originally from the Salinas Valley, Joe Ramos has been photographing for over 40 years. He studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute with Richard Conrat, Dorothea Lange's last assistant. He considers himself a documentary photographer and has large bodies of photographic work from the Salinas Valley and San Francisco's Mission District. His photography as been exhibited locally at the DeYoung Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Galeria de la Raza and in numerous national and local venues.


"Changing the World on a Tuesday Night"

A new book by Tammi DeVille which includes a chapter about my experience of taking portraits for Project Homeless Connect. A portion of the profits from the sale of this book goes to charity. The chapter on me is on page 37.


"Extra Mile America: Stories of Inspiration, Possibility and Purpose" by Shawn Anderson

A story about my participation as a volunteer portrait photographer for Project Homeless Connect has been included in this book by Shawn Anderson.

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