What started as street photography — walking until you happen upon serendipitous encounters — turned into a search with intent when one Tampa artist realized the prevalence of a group others hardly notice: our homeless populations. Renato Rampolla, a Tampa-based artist and ambler, is most well-known for his “Dignity” series, where he calls attention to humanity in his street portraits of homeless people across the United States. As Rampolla strolls a city, he might strike up a conversation with someone he encounters by asking if he can sit next to them for a minute.
“The biggest challenge of this project is getting someone’s trust. The fact that I ask [a homeless person’s] name is a big deal,” Rampolla explains. “Dignity is the last thing to go. They lose their family, their possessions, but they try to hold on to their self-respect no matter their position in life. Once they lose that, they just give up. The [people] I’ve approached for my photographs are just above that level; they still have the light within.”
From what the artist has garnered over the years, respect and dignity is worth more than a dollar to these people. Rampolla’s book, Dignity No Matter What: The Light Within, includes tidbits of subjects’ stories with their photos to provide the reader some insight into their unique situations. To create something bigger than himself, Rampolla donates all book proceeds to Blanket Tampa Bay, a husband-and-wife-run nonprofit that provides basic necessities for the homeless.
“I want my viewer to connect eye-to-eye with [the homeless], with their soul. I use a small lens and get less than a foot away because, to me, every wrinkle captured tells a story,” Rampolla says. “I want you to feel what they feel. With a bit of understanding, people can build on empathy and compassion.”
To find out more about his work and purchase a book, visit renatorampolla.com.