Don Tortellini. Photo courtesy of Artavius Cash

Homelessness in Dallas can, at times, be an uncomfortable topic to discuss. Though it has decreased in Dallas from last year, that hasn’t changed how our homeless population is viewed. 

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One Dallas photographer looks to humanize them by documenting their stories in Faces of Dallas, which will be on exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum during Father’s Day weekend. It’s a showcase that has been in talks for about a year now.

Don “Tortellini” Thomas II, (who taught himself photography with a Canon AE-1 during the pandemic), started paying more attention to the homeless when he’d ride his bike along the streets of Downtown. 

He shared with me that, as he saw passersby treat them as invisible, he wanted to acknowledge their existence.

“I observed that people in the area treated these people as if they didn’t exist, and I wanted to make sure that they were seen, that their stories were told,” he says. “I felt it was important that I use myself as an instrument to create context, because I think people from the outside looking in create these negative connotations on people who they don’t even know.”

Some of the faces Tortellini has captured in his gallery defy what the word “homeless” typically brings to mind. They’re people with an education, a family, clean clothes, job or otherwise. 

The Oak Cliff native has even encountered people who have declined being photographed for fear of the stigma that might come if other people know their status.

“I think the power about my work is the people that you don’t see, the people that have chosen not to be vulnerable. Out of respect, they asked me not to photograph them because they don’t want to be remembered for where they are now. They have dreams and aspirations just like you and I. They want to get out of this.”

Though he has not personally experienced homelessness, Tortellini says his interactions with people living on the streets has been a learning experience.

On his site, in 28 photos, he documents a summary of each person’s name, or nickname, and story.

“To me, I’m in awe of how smart these people are. I’m in awe of how they’re able to survive with a lack of resources, and I think that’s what adds such a powerful component to the work is that I try to share that with you, but also do contacts. So yeah, that’s what I’ve taken away the most from, how they’re able to utilize a lot of resources to survive every single day.”

Both Faces of Dallas and The Village Oak Cliff will be on exhibit in the DeGoyler House at Dallas Arboretum from 1 p.m.- 3 p.m. on June 19.