Today we talk about Nowhere to call home, a book by Leah Den Bok published with our publishing house Europe Books.
Europe Books had the pleasure of interviewing the author, Leah Den Bok, to get to know her better, where she found the inspiration to write about the stories told in her book Nowhere to call home, as well as what she would like to hear from her readers.
Below you can find our interview. Take a seat and enjoy your reading!!!
- Where did you find the inspiration to write about such real life stories?
I have had two main sources of inspiration. First, I’ve been inspired by the work of the British photographer, Lee Jeffries, who also photographs people experiencing homelessness. When I was 14 or 15, my mentor, the National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore, encouraged me to focus on portraiture, believing that this was where my strength lay. At first, I began photographing the elderly in senior citizen’s homes. However, as I was required to get written consent from the children of these people, this soon became impractical. It was then that my dad pointed out the work of Jeffries. Within a week I was photographing people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. Second, I was influenced, even if only subconsciously, by the story of my mother who, as a child, was homeless herself. When she was three, she was found by a police officer, in Kolkata, India, and taken to Mother Teresa’s orphanage, Nirmala Shishu Bhavan. She stayed there until, at the age of five, she was adopted by a family from Stayner, Ontario.
- What would you like to hear from your readers?
Since beginning my homelessness project called, Humanizing the Homeless, in 2015, I have always welcomed, and appreciated, input from those who view and read my photographs and stories of people experiencing homelessness. There have been numerous times, over the past six years, where, when I have felt down, an encouraging word by an admirer of my work has lifted my spirits and given me the confidence to continue with my project. Probably, the most encouraging comments, that I have received, are from people saying that my photographs and stories have changed their perception of those who are experiencing homelessness. Here is one such comment: “I used to support the homeless with food and cash. I work at a hotel at night and many times let the homeless come in from the rain or cold. Unfortunately, one night a couple years ago I was attacked by a homeless man. I was very lucky. It changed my heart. I felt such anger and some hate toward the homeless community. AND THEN I OPENED YOUR BOOK. Again, my heart has changed. Has healed. I feel compassion for this community once again! THANK YOU!” Since my goals are, precisely, to humanize people experiencing homeless and shine a spotlight on their plight, such comments reassure me that I am on the right track.
- What did it mean for you to bring up such strong and important themes in this book?
It’s true that the themes that my dad and I hear about from people experiencing homelessness are, often, very dark and heavy. They include such things as death, addiction, rape, abuse, divorce, family dysfunction, and even murder. Often the person, who is telling us about these things, is in tears. A case in point is a young woman named Diamond whom we met outside of a safe injection site in Toronto. Frequently, during the photo shoot, her eyes filled with tears. She told us that although her parents also lived in Toronto, she had no relationship with them. Her father used to steal her pay checks, while her mother is an alcoholic. Although she had several step-brothers and sisters, they didn’t want anything to do with her. Tragically, the love of her life, her boyfriend, had recently died in an accident. She told us how, as a child, she used to visit her grandmother on Vancouver Island, and remembers how pretty everything was there, and wished she could go back. Needless to say, it’s difficult to hear about such things. Admittedly, they, sometimes, bother me for a long time afterwards. But it’s reassuring to know that I’m helping, even if only a little, by giving these people a voice.
- How was your publishing experience?
I’m very pleased with the job that Europe Books did publishing volume 4! I think it’s by far my best book. My dad recently submitted it to Readers’ Favorite, an online book review site, and it was awarded five out of five stars. Here, in part, is the review: “I can honestly say I have never reviewed a book quite like Nowhere to Call Home, Volume 4. It is simple, yet so complex; it has not one single story but many; it has not one protagonist, but fifty, and every one of them has a tale to tell and a face impossible to forget. Those fifty unforgettable faces have been captured in the brilliant photography of Leah den Bok. Even my now-retired husband, a professional photographer, is in awe of Leah’s work. From the excellent lighting to the angles she has chosen to capture the essence of her subjects, the homeless, she has succeeded in making readers see into their hearts and souls. Assisting Leah in helping us get to know the protagonists is her father, Tim…. Even after you read each story, you will still wonder about the fifty homeless people to whom Leah and her father introduce you. Their stories are short and simple in detail but their photos tell you just how complex their lives have been and, for many of them, how hard they still are. So many said they haven’t seen their families in years. So many were hungry. So many of them preferred living in tents or under a bridge on the streets to living in a shelter. Why? You will find the reasons for that and other questions you will have as you read Nowhere to Call Home. Perhaps not all the stories will move you emotionally, but you’d have to be insensitive to not feel tearyeyed at the words that Grant sings in his song, “Don’t Laugh at Me”. I learned so much about the homeless from Leah and her father…. Buy the book or books. You’ll be infinitely rewarded spiritually.”
- Are you working on a new writing project you can tell us about?
Soon I am intending to move to near-by Toronto with my partner, Alejandro, where, together, we’re going to continue our careers as fashion photographers. However, I intend to continue with my homelessness project. In fact, my dad and I are already hard at work on volume 5 of my book series. Whereas the focus of volume 4 was upon the increased hardships experienced by people experiencing homelessness, a large number of the photos in volume 5, I hope, will consist of the people whom Mother Teresa called “the poorest of the poor” in Kolkata, India. My family and I are intending to go there next winter. It will be the first time I’ll have visited my mother’s birthplace, so, needless to say, I’m really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to visit with Mother Teresa, who died a couple of years before I was born, but we will be going to the orphanage where my mother lived as a child.
Europe Books thanks the author Leah Den Bok once again for taking the time and answering our questions. We are really pleased to have walked alongside her on the editorial path that led to the publication of her book Nowhere to call home. We wish her the best of luck for her future works.
To you, my dear reader, I strongly hope that you can appreciate the stories of Homeless and the photographs that testify to their existence. I also hope that this book will strongly support you in better understanding homelessness, without being judgemental but welcoming and responsive.
So, my dear reader, I just have to wish you to enjoy this very interesting reading!!!