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The Unwanted: Homeless In America

Friday 1 March 2019


From the British Journal of Photography:


The State of Me
Lawrence by road. Gallup, New Mexico, 2016.
From The Unwanted © Thilde Jensen.

The Unwanted: homeless in America

Written by Marigold Warner
Published on 28 February 2019
© 2019 British Journal of Photography.

“If we don't look at them, or if we try to sanitise it, then it's not honest to this brutal experience of being homeless,” says Danish photographer Thilde Jensen, who is currently raising funds to publish a four year project on homelessness in America

“Given my own life story, maybe I have a bit more of an understanding of what it means to be forced out, to be on the edge of society,” says Thilde Jensen, who lived in a tent in the woods for 18 months back in 2004. “I was homeless too for a while, but for different reasons.”

At the age of 30, Jensen had developed severe Environmental Illness, also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The symptoms are wide-ranging, and can include headache, fatigue, nausea, and respiratory problems, caused by a severe sensitivity to chemical exposure – be it perfumes, detergent, or even synthetic fabrics and plastic.

Jensen wore a respirator for seven years, and was unable use her phone or laptop because she also became sensitive to electronics. For the first year and a half Jensen lived in her tent, or in the desert under the open sky. Eventually, she found an alternative treatment from Canada that targeted the illness through the brain, and in 2013 published her first book, The Canaries, about people who suffer from Environmental Illness.

“It was very disabling” says the Danish photographer over the phone from upstate New York, where she now lives in a straw-built house in the countryside. Jensen has recovered, but has to take precautions in her lifestyle, particularly when travelling. Ironically, perhaps, these factors also made it easier to photograph homeless people than many others for her next project, because they live outside and don’t use fragrances or detergents she could be sensitive to.


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