The Hope in Shadows photo project is based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to give a voice to the countless positive stories about the Downtown Eastside that were not being heard—stories that could only be told by community members themselves. Representations of the community generally took the form of sensational media headlines or journalists’ snapshots of nameless people struggling with poverty and addiction - missing the strong social bonds and culture of acceptance that makes this community unique.
The first Hope in Shadows photography contest was in 2003. Single-use film cameras were distributed to people in the neighbourhood. Participants took pictures of their friends, their families, and the places in the community that mattered most to them. The top photos became the first Hope in Shadows calendar.
From the very first year, the community was eager to get involved with the project, and since then Hope in Shadows contest participants have captured over 30,000 images of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Winning photos are chosen by a panel of artists from inside and outside of the community, and through a community vote. Contest winners and photo subjects are invited to share the stories behind the captivating images, and a selection of winning images is featured in our annual calendar, launched each October.
The Hope in Shadows calendar is sold through our vendor program, which provides opportunities for residents to earn an income, gain and practice skills, and act as ambassadors for their community. Every season, we work with over 200 low-income people who sign up to sell the calendar. Vendors earn $10 dollars for each $20 calendar sold.
Since the first calendar was published in 2003, vendors have sold over 75,000 copies. In recent years, we have added a peer-elected vendor advisory board so that the people who sell the calendar have more opportunities to get involved in how the project runs.
In 2008, Vancouver authors Brad Cran and Gillian Jerome worked with Hope in Shadows contest participants to create an anthology of stories behind some of the images that have appeared in the photo contest. The Hope in Shadows book won the City of Vancouver Book Award and sold over 5,000 copies through our vendor program.
We often hear from people whose lives have been positively affected by the Hope in Shadows project Photo contest participants have explored or discovered their artistic talents and love of photography. Calendar vendors have met financial goals and accessed new opportunities.
The communities involved in this project go beyond the Downtown Eastside. We work with a broad range of supporters from many communities, including progressive businesses, unions, and foundations, who are proud to play a role in supporting the Hope in Shadows vision. The project is shifting the public narrative about the Downtown Eastside and the people who call it home. Every year, we get phone calls and emails from people whose understanding about the Downtown Eastside deepens after reading a story in the book or through a conversation with a vendor.
That is what the project is really about—telling stories, creating connections, and changing lives.