Magdalena Kernan had an opportunity to do a solo photography show, but she didn't feel right having the focus only on her.
So the 21-year-old Ocean City woman instead proposed a project that was close to her heart.
On Sunday, that project gets a public viewing as Kernan's portraits of homeless residents of Atlantic City go on display during a fundraising event at the resort's Melting Pot restaurant. Proceeds from the event will go to aid the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and Covenant House.
"It's crazy how this all came together, I wasn't expecting anything like this, I didn't expect it to be a big thing. But it's really cool," Kernan said.
Kernan is a senior at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where she majors in political science with an eye toward attending law school.
For the past two years, the self-taught photographer has been making a name for herself in her hometown and surrounding area with wedding photos, engagement portraits and other work.
With lots of word-of-mouth referrals, Kernan went into business as a photographer this past summer.
"I've done a lot of weddings, a lot of family portraits, a lot of engagements, but this was something different," she said of her most recent project.
The opportunity to do something more with photography came up during her sophomore year, when a professor asked Kernan to get involved with a project at the Rescue Mission. Kernan agreed, and took her camera with her to Atlantic City.
She shot dozens of portraits of the people she met. Some of those were included in the "Finding Home" exhibit at the Noyes Museum of Art in Galloway Township last January.
"I was really excited to use photography for something other than making money," Kernan said.
The young photographer also engaged her subjects in conversations, listening to their stories and developing an empathy for the people she met and a respect for the workers at the Rescue Mission.
"In Atlantic City they do a really really good job of getting people off the street. I saw them bringing people food even if they weren't at the mission anymore. I saw them getting people hotel rooms if they didn't want to stay at the mission," she said.
Kernan's thoughts returned to the Rescue Mission when she was approached about doing a photography event at the Melting Pot restaurant.
"They wanted to just have a night about me. I didn't feel comfortable, so I said how about I do the homeless project? So I called the homeless mission, told them about the project. They got on it right away," she said.
Kernan returned to the city in late November and early December, going out on the streets with staff from the rescue mission, riding with local police and shooting dozens of photos of the people she encountered.
Taking "thousands" of photographs, Kernan culled those down to 20 that will be featured in a silent auction at Sunday's event. The show will also feature examples of some of her other photography.
Alex Siniari, an outreach worker for the rescue mission who aided Kernan's project, will perform at the event with his band ARGO.
Kernan sees her work, and Sunday's event, as an effort to raise awareness and call people to action to aid the homeless.
"One of the goals of my photography is to point out the displacement and disparities among the poor," Kernan said in a statement about the event. "Too often, individuals who are well-off enough to help, simply do not."
The photographer said she hopes the "Faces of the Homeless" project places "a face and a story to as many homeless people as possible."
Kernan also hopes the show makes people realize how only "a few difficult circumstances separate the homeless from the 'mainstream' of society."
Sunday's show is unlikely to be the last time Kernan uses photography to raise awareness about social issues.
The aspiring attorney leaves at the end of January for a three-month internship in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of Africa.
While there, she plans to do a human rights photography project. Although Kernan hopes to get a law degree, her current career ambition is working for National Geographic doing photoprojects.
"I hope this propels me in the right direction," she said. " I would really like to be going out on adventures, having more fun with it."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
If you go
"Faces of the Homeless" event 5 p.m. Sunday at Melting Pot Restaurant, 2112 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City. The event features photographs, works by local artists,
a silent auction, drink specials, fondue and live music . Admission is free, donations taken. Call 609-441-1100.