Sunny Miller, 38, is putting the spotlight on Philadelphia’s homeless community, and he’s doing it with the lens of his camera.
“I always wanted to photograph people—homeless people in particular—but I never really knew how to go about that,” photographer Sunny Miller said.
Late last year, Miller had a brief exchange with a young homeless man who had asked him for change. A conversation between the two led Miller to take a photo of the man, and that photo sparked the idea for a series that is now prompting donations from all over the country to men and women living on the streets of Philadelphia.
“I began to ask questions, to hear his story. I learned that his parents had died in a fire and that he later lost his job,” Miller said.
“It sparked the beginning of a curiosity, I just felt like I was no different than him, he was just in a different situation that I am. I wanted to find a way where I could come back and give him a photo of what I took of him, and also give him something small he might need like socks or something.”
So, Miller began taking photos of Philadelphia’s homeless and publishing them on his Instagram page. Alongside his captivating photos, Miller would post simple messages like, “Tito could use some help. 36 pants, socks, anything helps. Please contact me if you would like to donate.” He would then meet donors in person or have them ship items directly to him at which point he would deliver the donated items to the person in need.
The idea spread quickly through social media, and soon, Miller was receiving donations from people in states across the country.
Asma Drame-Coly, 33, is one of many people who have donated to Miller’s project. Drame-Coly said she was compelled to donate after seeing Miller’s photos featured in a Main Line Today story.
“Sunny's photos caught my eye. What I loved about his photos was that there was a story behind every face. An image is worth a thousand words, but I liked the fact that Sunny would stop and actually talk to these individuals to learn about them,” Drame-Coly said.
“More than receiving material goods or money, it matters just as much for people in distress to have someone stop and listen to them, and acknowledge them as individuals. I feel like, while Sunny is helping with donations, he is taking the time to find out about the people he meets. I think every action makes a difference.”
In addition to carving time out of his busy schedule as a professional photographer, Miller says one of the biggest challenges of the project is getting back in touch with a homeless person when donations arrive.
“A lot of times it’s difficult to find them again. Sometimes they’ll have a cell phone but they’re off and on. The first guy I photographed, I’ve never seen him again,” he said. “If I can’t find them I just give it to somebody else. There’s always somebody that I can at least give something to.”
Aside from a few volunteers who have occasionally donated their time to the project, Miller has been doing all of the outreach and deliveries on his own.
He’s hopeful that some local organization dedicated to homeless efforts will catch on to the idea and help to support it. Whether that happens or not, Miller says he intends to keep his project going.
“I think it’s something that I just want to continue to do until there’s no need to do it,” he said. “As long as people want to help out and they’re moved by it, I guess I’ll keep on doing it.”