Structure Out Of Chaos: Shantytowns of America's Homeless

PhotographerMary Lou Uttermohlen
PrizeHonorable Mention
City/CountryNew Orleans, United States
Entry Description

“Structure Out of Chaos: Shantytowns of America's Homeless,” is a paradox. These are portraits of the homeless in their homes. The camps get sweeps by authorities that discard their belongings and force people to start over. The cycle is endless. Today’s shantytowns have less to do with poverty and more to do with our social ills. For example, our national mental healthcare system lost funding and patients are left to care for themselves. Many end up living on the streets self-medicating with street drugs. Cities seem to think the quickest way to resolve this problem is to pass laws against it. Only homelessness is not a crime and laws that criminalize them take away their civil rights as it fills our jails with people who need doctors. The intent is open a dialogue about chronic homelessness. As we shift our awareness we can transform from criminalizing people to addressing the issues.

About Photographer

Mary Lou Uttermohlen documents homeless people who build shantytowns in the United States. When she started the project in 1993 encampments were a safe place for homeless people to live without fear of being arrested for their circumstances. Currently there is a battle going on between those who want the problem to go away and the homeless who have nowhere to go. Local laws get passed trying to force the vagrants to become invisible. Her work is about encouraging meaning discourse on the topic of chronic homelessness in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. She works with portraiture to return some dignity to the people being photographed. To learn more about her work, visit the website In another current project she explores spirituality in New Orleans in a series called Spiritual YAYA. This project peels back the shroud exposing the spiritual mysteries of the city. It begins with mainstream events and then takes the viewer deep into the underground of local spiritual culture. Samples can be seen at Uttermohlen studied photography at Shepherd University in West Virginia and received a Masters from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She has served as an adjunct professor of photography at The Ohio State University, The Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio and Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo Lucida’s Critical Mass just named her as one of the Top 50 photographers through an international selection with 200 curators. ( ) Mary Lou has also earned two individual artist fellowships. One award was from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the second from the State of Florida. Uttermohlen has a long exhibition record and is in several collections including the New Orleans Museum of Art, United States Embassy in Moscow, Russia and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Collection.