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Unconventional Portrait Project Captures A Different Side Of Homelessness

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When we think of a photography series capturing the faces of homelessness, a few very specific images come to mind. They usually involve black-and-white photos of subjects in their makeshift homes or on the city streets that give a dark but realistic impression of homeless life.

Photographer Jan Banning wanted to separate himself from this style of portraiture, choosing to focus on the person rather than their living situation.

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"I wanted to photograph them in a studio setting, against a neutral backdrop, focusing on their individuality rather than on stereotypes," Banning writes on his website. "In essence, I want to show who they are rather than what they are labeled."

Banning captures close-up shots of his diverse subjects -- people he encountered in South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi in 2010 and 2011 -- set against the neutral screen of a photography studio. Using a gray backdrop normally associated with yearbook photo shoots or awkward family portraits, Banning imbues his works with a strange sense of authority and imagination.

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For his project, entitled "Down and Out in the South," Banning photographed around 100 homeless subjects, each of whom he interviewed for approximately half an hour before the shoot. Banning starts off asking "How did you become homeless?" and "What happened in your life?" before allowing each story to blossom on its own.

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Banning has a knack for sharply communicating difficult topics with his imagery. Previous shoots have explored sex slavery in Indonesia and poverty in Malawi.

A selection of Banning's portraits were compiled in a photography book also titled "Down and Out in the South," available on his website. An exhibition of the same name will take place at the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery in Atlanta from October 26, 2013 until January 4, 2014.

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What do you think of Banning's unconventional approach to portraiture? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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