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Dept of Ideas: Photographer Valerie Jardin and Hairdresser Joshua Coombes Lift Up Homeless People with #DoSomethingForNothing

By Gina Williams   Friday January 12, 2018


In 2015, renowned street photographer Valérie Jardin  received an unusual request from a British hairdresser named Joshua Coombes:

“Recently I have started a project cutting hair for homeless people on the street in different cities," wrote Coombes. "I will be in Paris on 17th to 20th of December doing this. I am trying to find a photographer to document this one day for me. Please have a look at my Instagram @joshuacoombes if you want to see more of what I’ve been doing. Or check out the #DoSomethingForNothing. I understand this is quite a random request, but I would love to hear back from you, as it would be amazing to have a Parisian photographer to help me. Hope to hear from you! Thanks, Joshua :)”

Jardin wasn’t able to help on those days, but she looked for someone local to help. Photographer Laurent Demartini volunteered and spent that time with Coombes on the streets of Paris. Yet she and Coombes stayed in touch, Jardin determined to one day tell his story through her lens. Finally, in September 2017, the pair met in New York.

Working with Coombes, Jardin says, was emotional, exhilarating and transformational.

“This has changed my life," she says. "Everything else I’ve ever done with my camera, just doesn’t measure up to this experience. It’s the ultimate storytelling project. We’re a team and it just feels so good. We’re in such dark times and it gives me hope.”

Coombes first got the idea for #DoSomethingForNothing when he was chatting with a young homeless man on the street in London.

“It just came about one day,” he says.

He’d chatted with the man before, but this time, as they talked, Coombes noticed his ragged, matted hair and thought a haircut might lift his spirits. Coombes had his supplies with him, so he asked the man if he’d like a trim and got to work right there on the spot.

That moment sparked the idea that led to an incredible international journey. Since then, Coombes, along with his scissors and his message, have traveled and trimmed around the globe, connecting with people on the streets, from London and Paris to Mexico City and New York.

Coombes says the movement is not about haircuts. Or homelessness. Or photographs. It’s not even about giving back.

Rather, he says, his #DoSomethingForNothing movement is ultimately about making time in a world full of distractions to notice the people around us and lift them up — to be a beacon of hope in the present moment.

“Even if you can’t give back realistically, you can still give ten minutes of your day to talk to someone,” Coombes says. “Your ‘do something for nothing’ might be different than mine. It might not be working with the homeless. It's about using your skills or time to make others smile in your community. We have to use something as powerful as social media for good where we can. We can change things. It starts small, then builds.”

Working together in the Big Apple, the friendship between Jardin and Coombes blossomed and plans took shape for production of an eBook highlighting their experience, along with inspiring stories from the streets. Proceeds from the publication, titled #DoSomethingForNothing New York City, will help Coombes continue his outreach around the world. Their partnership is heartwarming, inspiring and a visual testament to the power of human engagement.

Partnering with Jardin on #DoSomethingForNothing has gone a long way towards amplifying his message and sharing stories from the streets, Coombes says. “A huge part of this movement is storytelling. What a better way to do that than through photography?” he says.

Canadian photographer Ian MacDonald praised the project in a recent blog post.

Through his former career as a paramedic, MacDonald says, he knows very well “how just a small amount of compassion and respect can go a long way towards lifting somebody us."

“As artists we are in a fortunate position: We get to create work that may inspire others, but we are also gifted with a platform which we can use to enrich the lives of those around us,” MacDonald writes. “How can we help?  How can we inspire others? How can we leave our mark on the world in a positive way? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, indeed it might be something quite small, but we all have the ability to #DoSomethingForNothing.”  

Jardin, an official Fujifilm X-Photographer, documented the interactions between the hairdresser and his impromptu clients with her Fuji X100F while Coombes worked his magic — smiles and conversation spilling out onto the streets like sunshine. Jardin also used a Fujifilm Instax mini printer connected via WIFI with a smart phone to give people instant photos of themselves sporting their new hair styles. The New York City project was made possible by Fujifilm North America Corporation, which brought the pair together.

It was a beautiful sunny day in New York City’s East Village when Coombes sat down on a bench next to Tony Sánchez, a man he’d never met.

Coombes said he had no idea Sánchez was sleeping on the street until after they began talking and he learned that Sánchez is fighting cancer.

“I just got back from my last hospital appointment,” he recalls Sánchez saying. “It’s not getting any better, but it’s not getting any worse. I just wanted to talk to someone. You know, I’m happy on days like this. It’s beautiful out here. It would take a really bad mood to not feel happy today."

A few minutes later, Jardin arrived in the East Village. As Coombes explains in the eBook, it was their first encounter after almost two years of exchanging emails. They caught up for a few minutes, then wasted no time getting to work.

“We had a little time to chat briefly before we were both engaging with Tony," Coombes says. "This time I spoke to him about #DoSomethingForNothing. Minutes later, I was cutting his hair.”

What’s next? Jardin and Coombes are busy promoting the eBook and plan to continue working together wherever possible. A photography exhibition may also be in the works.

Coombes often utilizes partners wherever can, such as British veterinarian Jade Statt, a director of Street Vet Ltd., to offer free health checks of dogs living on the streets with their owners.

“The most important thing since starting this journey has been witnessing others get involved in #DoSomethingForNothing,” he says. “This is for everyone.”

Download the eBook here: #DoSomethingForNothing New York City

In addition, Jardin is donating $25 for every Valérie Jardin Limited Edition Streetomatic camera bag by Cosyspeed with order information available here. See more at Facebook  and Instagram.
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Gina Williams is a Portland, Oregon USA-based arts & culture journalist. She covers photography and photographers internationally. Learn more about her and her work at GinaMarieWilliams.com and follow her photography and travel blog at AccentsandApertures.com.

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