Nic Tullis: Humanizing the homeless through portraiture


Documenting the world around him with an iPhone 6+ or a Canon T2i, Nic Tullis is a 19-year-old photographer based in Missouri. He’s been sharing scenes from St. Louis on Instagram since April 2012 and, in January of this year, launched a project specifically focused on the homeless. While Tullis prepares for his first solo exhibit, titled “Shadows Of St. Louis”—the show will serve as a fundraiser for St. Patrick Center, a service provider for the homeless in St. Louis — he was generous enough to share a few of his photos with us.


“Curly” is a disabled U.S. Veteran who served in the Army working with cannons. I met Curly one afternoon when I was visiting the eclectic “Delmar Loop” in St. Louis. Curly, who often sleeps on the covered benches at nearby bus stops, was watching passers by when I noticed him and decided to ask if I could photograph him.

As we began talking, he was telling me about some of the challenges he has encountered being a homeless vet. He talked about the trouble getting to and from doctor appointments for his existing health issues, one of which is having recently suffered a stroke that dramatically weakened the left side of his body, and the hurdles he is facing with trying to find accessible, and affordable, housing through VA services. Thanks to help from Bombas Socks, I was able to provide him with not only new socks, but I was also able to get him some basic essentials (underwear, razors, toothbrush, etc…) that so many of us take for granted.

“Loot Bag”

“Loot Bag” is a portrait of a lady I met one late Saturday afternoon in downtown St. Louis. When I first noticed her, she was actually laying down on the landing to the building in the photograph. My initial concern was whether or not she was okay. We talked for quite a while, and during our conversation, she was explaining to me a little bit about how she “survives” on the streets by keeping a “loot bag” of cigarette lighters, calendars, and hats (one of which she gave to me for giving her a can of soda so she could take her medicine). She went on to explain that these are useful items because they can be sold to passers by (as opposed to just panhandling), or they can be traded with other displaced St. Louisans for things she needs. Throughout our conversation, she kept asking me if I was with the church, as if I had to be on some kind of “mission” to have spent time with her learning her story and being interested in her experiences.


“Ray” is a street musician who can be found almost daily, weather permitting of course, on the Delmar Loop in St. Louis. I met Ray the same day I met Curly, and it was a blast to photograph him and watch him interact with the variety of people and children strolling through the streets and checking out the shops. His songs range from recognizable standards (mostly blues), to impromptu pieces like “You Gotta Push The Button If You Wanna Cross The Street.” These funny little ditties evoke laughter and smiles from many, and donations to his bag from some. While Ray is not homeless, he understands the plight of his nearby friend Curly, and always watches out for his safety when they are together.

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