Anchorage is a city populated with different people, and each of them has a different story to tell. Mikey Huff, a 23-year-old photographer based in Anchorage, has his own story. But he seeks to tell the stories of others — people whose stories don’t often get told.
Meeting and talking with Anchorage’s homeless population, taking their photograph and sharing their stories is a project Huff has been working on for nearly a year. It’s an effort he has titled the Wool Sock Project. Huff’s goal and intent for this project changed from when the concept first began in the summer of 2017, where he wanted to originally broadcast his idea in a photo-only type of display.
“I realized it would be interesting to photograph some of the homeless population in Anchorage in a dignifying way and then blow them up really large and put them downtown. I tested around, tried it out a little bit but eventually what I realized was that the stories that people were sharing with me were a lot more interesting than the photographs I could make,” Huff said.
Multiple events have been held around Anchorage for the Wool Sock Project, where Huff displays his photos and talks about the homeless community in Anchorage, sharing the stories they’ve told him. Last February, Kaladi Brothers showed his images at its Brayton location, where people came see the project come to life and hear Huff’s stories about the people he has encountered through his work.
Daniel Kim Wongi works with Kaladi Brothers in marketing and attended the Wool Sock Project event.
“It was very touching, you see these people out in the streets, and maybe think negative thoughts like everyone does,” Wongi said. “Mikey had these intimate black and white photos of these people and shared their stories, it put a whole new perspective into things and truly personified them. He does a great job of showing everyone who these people are.”
Kaladi Brothers donated all proceeds from the night to the Wool Sock Project, which helped Huff bring his work to Los Angeles in early April where he continued the project in a different city.
Joshua Coombes is a photographer and barber and worked with Huff in both Anchorage and on LA’s Skid Row where they teamed up by giving the homeless population free haircuts. Coombes operates a similar program like the Wool Sock Project called Do Something for Nothing. Huff and Coombes’ projects have come together on multiple occasions now to work with homeless populations, and they plan to continue to do so in the future.
Huff utilizes social media to broadcast the Wool Sock Project. He uses Instagram to post the photos he takes of individuals and pairs a few stand-out quotes of theirs with the image. This allows each story to be heard by more people who may otherwise not know who these individuals are.
“Uncle Jason is a regular downtown, I see him and get to chat with him regularly about how he is doing and what he’s been up to. When Josh and I were giving out haircuts, he showed up and got his beard trimmed and hair styled for a job interview. He is always great to catch up with and one of the stories I am grateful to be able to share with the community,” Huff said.
Anchorage’s feedback to the Wool Sock Project has been extremely positive, empowering people to give back to their community and do something about the stigmas attached to the homeless population.
“The community has been really positive about the project,” Huff said. “The best response I got was what I set out to hear, someone said they had been sitting at Kaladi Brothers and noticing my photos for a few days in a row and thought ‘I feel like I need to do something, but I don’t know what it is yet.’ I just want to plant that seed, and have people realize that they want to make a change in their community.”
This summer, the Wool Sock Project is teaming up with Kaladi Brothers and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership to set up coffee booths in different parks around Anchorage for the homeless population to meet and interact with others over free coffee. The goal of these monthly events is for people in the Anchorage community is able to intermingle with the homeless and lessen the divide that now exists between the two groups.
Madison McEnaney says she is many things, but most importantly she is an Alaskan born and raised journalism student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is a writer, specifically in regards to the local music and art scene in Anchorage. When she’s not attending shows or writing about them, you can find her pouring lattes as a barista at specialty coffee shop Black Cup-Cafe Del Mundo. Coffee, music, and hair dye are among some of her strongest passions, and sharing stories that revolve around those things are what she hopes to continue to be able to do once she graduates with her degree this fall.