Every portrait has a storyPainter and  filmmaker work on project at A.C. Rescue Mission

Artist Seth Comm paints a portrait of Atlantic City Rescue Mission client John Karpinski as part of the ‘Finding Home’ project, where he and filmmaker Frank Weiss work together to gather the homeless’ stories and portraits. The project will eventually be put on display at the Noyes Museum in Galloway Township.

Painter Seth Camm and photographer/filmmaker Frank Weiss are trying to build a bridge of understanding between the homeless and others.

For several weeks, Camm has been painting portraits of 22 men and women at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, and Weiss has been filming them telling their life stories. Camm and Weiss were brought together by the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton College in Oceanville, Galloway Township.

The museum got a $15,000 grant from Horizon Foundation of New Jersey to create an exhibit exploring homelessness, called "Finding Home." It will open Oct. 5, said Director of Exhibitions and Collections Dorrie Papademetriou, of Linwood. The project will also result in a permanent installation at the Rescue Mission, and the museum will hold a fundraising event for the Rescue Mission on November 8, she said.

"This exhibit doesn't fit the usual concept of what homelessness is," said Camm, 37, of San Antonio, Tex., who encourages his subjects to open up and share their stories as he paints. "Each interview and story we gather changes the makeup of what it is."

"(Camm) is the magic behind the interviews," said Weiss, 26, of Wildwood Crest. "As he's painting and interviewing, I film. He feels out the direction to take. People talk about parts of their lives they haven't spoken about before."

Camm and Weiss have heard stories of childhoods marred by physical and sexual abuse, parental drug addiction and mental illness. But they have also heard stories of simple misfortune magnified by lack of family or social support. Every story is unique, Camm said.

One young woman is a former college student, staying at the Mission while her child is treated for leukemia in a Philadelphia hospital. The Mission is helping her with grants for train fare to visit regularly.

Another is a young heroin addict who the Rescue Mission helped place into a 16-week drug rehab program.

Another is a 20-year-old survivor of sexual abuse who is now working to earn her high school GED with the goal of eventually becoming a nurse. She had never told anyone her whole story until she spoke to Camm.

Camm has been painting the homeless in cities around the U.S. since 1998, when he embarked upon a project to visit shelters in 50 cities across the U.S. and document people there through portraits. He had gone to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, so one of the first places he visited was the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, he said.

He had to stop the project after visiting a handful of shelters, for financial reasons. But over the years he continued to paint the homeless as he developed his career. So Papademetriou thought of him right away when deciding whom to bring into the project, she said.

Weiss, who graduated from Wildwood Catholic High School in 2004, found a love of photography while serving in Afghanistan with the Air Force. He was a military policeman, but his main interest was art, he said. He started taking photos of the incredible landscape and civilians he met his first time in Kandahar.

He left the military in 2009. Now he's a film student at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and owner of Frank Weiss Photography and Wild Rhino Studios. In February his 30-minute documentary film, "The Road is Coming," premiered at the Noyes. It is about the effects of ecotourism and development on people in a small native village in Belize.

Camm and Weiss would like to continue the work on the homelessness project, even after the grant work is complete. They have opened a Kickstarter account, and are seeking $6,500 for continued support to keep painting and making a longer documentary. So far they have raised about $3,400 in the campaign, which ends Sept. 8.

"Sometimes art opens up the door and airs out the closet," Camm said, of how it is helping the homeless tell their stories. "It's all love. Caring for one individual can change so much of the world, for you and for them."

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:


If You Go

'Finding Home'

Opening reception at the Noyes Museum, 733 Lily Lake Road, Oceanville, at 5 p.m., Oct. 5. Call 609- 652-8848.

A fundraiser for the Atlantic City Rescue Mission at the museum, p.m., Nov. 8.

Premiere of Weiss's 20-minute film of interviews with the homeless, p.m., Dec. 1, at the museum.

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