photos: ABOVE: Megaphone vendor Delisle Doucet sits in the courtyard of the Fort Common in Victoria in this self-portrait, which is a Top 30 runner-up photo in the 2021 Hope in Shadows dayplanner

To fall in love ... buy this

Hope in Shadows offers an intimate glimpse into the personal thoughts, memories, struggles, and joys of perfect strangers. You'll never look at them the same way again. 

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I've fallen in love again.

This always happens to me around this time of year — at least since I've been the editor at Megaphone. That's because by October, I've read through dozens of transcripts of interviews with our annual Hope in Shadows photo contest contenders.

A personal story is connected to each photo captured by those taking part in the contest, held annually in June. Participants are given single-use, disposable cameras and five days to take pictures of their lives.

This year, we received 1,500 images, and from those, a batch of top 30 photos were picked using a juried and online voting system. That number was then pared down to 13, and those photos are featured in the 2021 product sold by Megaphone vendors on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria. Look for it on sale now.

On the face of it, Hope in Shadows is a great project that showcases the visual storytelling skills of those on the margins of society—people living with poverty or homelessness. The calendar also gives our low-income vendors a way to earn extra cash.

But there's also something much more profound at work.

Vancouver author Mandy Len Catron, who teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, touched on it in her essay in the Modern Love section of The New York Times a few years ago.

You may remember it. The piece was entitled, To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This, and featured 36 questions — based on a study by psychologist Arthur Aron — designed to create intimacy between two strangers. The idea is that vulnerability fosters closeness, and after hearing personal narratives from people — their thoughts, memories, struggles, and joys—it's impossible not to have the heart grow fonder.

Some of the questions include, What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? For what in your life are you most grateful? Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

During many days of reading through thousands of words from interviews with our 2021 Hope in Shadows photographers, I laughed out loud. And cried. I cheered for their courage, their frankness, and their friends. I met their cats, their cousins, and their cucumbers. I went to their grandkid's birthday party and I shared their COVID-19 concerns. In short, I found connection and discovered common ground.

Hope in Shadows was created 18 years ago as a way for the people of the Downtown Eastside to tell their own stories—as opposed to the stigmatized stereotypes offered up by the status quo.

It has succeeded in spades by showing so-called strangers in a whole new light.

If you want to fall in love, buy this.

This year, faced with the challenges of a global pandemic, we've re-designed the familiar Hope in Shadows calendar as a dayplanner. Should selling on the streets become unsafe, the publication can be purchased and mailed at affordable shipping rates through our online store. Proceeds can be directed to a specific vendor, or we will ensure the funds are distributed fairly to active vendors.

The 2021 Hope in Shadows dayplanner is now on sale. Use the Megaphone App to find and pay a vendor: You can also purchase this new dayplanner online:

Paula Carlson is the managing editor of Megaphone.

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