21st Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest The American Experience
Someone's Castle

Next to a 200-year-old German church that recently burned down, you will find a family of 5. They live under several large, ripped tarps that cover them sparsely from the elements in St. Louis city. That day I was on my way to another photoshoot when a heard a man yell, " Do you need anything to eat or drink?" I quickly turned around to see a man with a huge smile on his face. During those 4 hours, I learned so much from this family. They taught me the value of gratitude, resilience, and the importance of community. Despite their challenging circumstances, they remained positive and shared whatever little they had with me, a complete stranger. As we sat under the tarps, they shared their stories of hardship and perseverance. They told me about their struggles to find work, their daily battles with hunger, and their constant fear of losing their makeshift home. Yet, through it all, they never lost hope. Their small garden and chickens were their means of survival. They took immense pride in nurturing and growing their own food, finding solace and joy amidst the struggles. It was a reminder that sometimes the most basic things in life can bring the greatest happiness. I couldn't help but reflect on my own life and the abundance I often took for granted. The comforts I enjoyed seemed trivial in comparison to the strength and resilience displayed by this family. It made me question the priorities and values of our society. In that moment, I made a decision. I canceled the photoshoot, realizing that capturing pictures of their struggles would not do justice to their story. Instead, I wanted to honor them by sharing their humanity, their kindness, and their unwavering spirit with the world. Leaving their humble abode, I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for this eye-opening experience. I had entered their world with the intention of capturing a fleeting moment, but I left with a newfound appreciation for the simple joys of life and a desire to make a difference. Through it all, the memory of that day and the kindness shown by this humble family remained etched in my heart. They taught me that wealth isn't measured in material possessions, but rather in the strength of human connection and the ability to help those in need. In their castle, under the worn tarps, I found a lesson in humility, gratitude, and the power of a generous spirit. And for that, I am forever grateful.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 03.2022
Date Uploaded: 11.2023
Photo Location: Saint Louis, Missouri, United States of America
Camera: NIKON D3300
Copyright: © Lauren Harris