Forgotten Faces: Brooke, Jamie, and Ruffy

Editor’s note: This feature is the latest in a series we’ll be running over the next several weeks. To learn more about how the project started, check out the introductory post here. And please come back here regularly to see more.


This is Brooke. I met her, Jamie, and Ruffy one rainy day in July while they were panhandling at a Target store in Richmond. I walked up with a few dollars and asked to photograph them. When they saw the money, it wasn’t a hard decision for them. Brooke quickly said “Yes,” and I began photographing, all the while, asking questions about their life and their travels.

“I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida, but I’m traveling to Chicago.” She never told me why.

Brooke was a rather sweet girl with a big smile she wasn’t afraid to show. I think she was happy just to be getting some attention from a stranger.

“I stopped hitch-hiking after some guy picked me up, drove me to a hotel, and tried to rape me. I ran away and decided never to hitch rides again.”


Jamie was a stitch. I could tell he wanted me to think he was a big tough guy, but I knew he wasn’t as tough as he would have liked everyone to think. Occasionally, I would catch him smiling and raise my camera to photograph him only to find that he had erased the boyish grin from his face, replacing it with the look you see in this photo.


“I’m from South Carolina but I’m going to New York to live with some family.” I hope he made it there ok.


It had been raining about two minutes before I took this shot. I felt as though it added to the reality of the situation that these people have to live with from day to day.


Ruffy travels with Jamie and likes the cheap dog treats, even though people typically only donate the expensive stuff.

“She doesn’t like the expensive treats, but since that’s all people are giving me for her, that’s what she eats.”

I like to think Ruffy isn’t as sad as she looks in these photos. I can’t stand to think that she’s unhappy… it breaks my heart.



It started raining again as I was leaving. Brooke’s sign began to fall apart from being soaked with rain water, but she just kept holding it up, gripping it like it was the only thing she had left in this world – to let it go would mean giving up her voice.

As I was driving home one day in September, I noticed a girl sitting with two guys and two dogs and it reminded me of Brooke. I sat there at the stop light looking at her and I noticed she had a tattoo on her right arm of what looked like flowers and water. Then I realized… it was Brooke! I suppose Jamie split with Ruffy, and Brooke decided to stay in Richmond for a while longer. I’m glad she was with people; I felt better knowing she had “family.”

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Ryan Phillips

Ryan Phillips is a 25-year-old local photographer who got hooked on taking pictures because of his wife, Laura. You can see more of his work here.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Davis P. on said:

    Words of advice: let your photos speak more and in the captions, just describe what’s going on at the shoot without so much interpretation. After all, you gave these people money and spent however few minutes with them. Don’t think that you saw into their souls. That’s cheezy and pretentious.
    Also, maybe include a wide or medium shot to establish the place/situation instead of so many close-ups? We get it, you feel sorry for them like everyone does when they see a homeless person in the rain. Try thinking outside of the advertising box.

  2. Matt on said:

    This person knows so much about photography that they are relegated to criticizing columnists on local news sites instead of being paid for their critical analysis.

  3. Eric on said:

    Again excellent….

  4. Davis P. on said:

    Hey Matt, how would you know I’m not paid? You’re wrong, actually.
    Nice attempt at saying something useful though.

    Keep up the circle jerk of fluff spewing: “It’s all good! Don’t be a hater! No worries, bra! One love, white rasta!”

    (Remember, it’s only friends of friends reading. Don’t bring us down.)

  5. cynic on said:

    ” I felt as though it added to the reality of the situation that these people have to live with from day to day.”

    *have to live with*? Looks like a lifestyle choice rather than a real burden to bear.

  6. Matt on said:

    Well, then you’re a hell of a business man for giving away for free what you should be getting paid for.

    Do your charitable contributions branch out into anything other that asshole comments?

  7. Regardless of how they got in the situation, they *are* in the situation. Some people are homeless because of choices they’ve made, while others are homeless because of circumstances out of their control. I think it’s important to hear their stories no matter what because it gives a more complete picture of the issue.

  8. Davis P. on said:

    I also comment sometimes to non-assholes. So yes, they do.

  9. bopst on said:

    great post. thank you…

  10. Davis P. on said:

    Guys, I’m just kidding. This is actually a really awesome article. I feel awful for bad mouthing it.

    As a matter of fact, I’m going to go urinate on the third rail of a subway.

  11. Cynic on said:

    Val – we’re not getting their story. How did these folks get here? Tragedy, or just being punk as fuck and mooching off of the kindness of strangers? Are they mentally ill, or otherwise unemployable? Too good for food service?

    If these poor kids just choose to be homeless, how interesting is that really?

  12. Matt on said:

    I have to say, I also personally disagree with this lifestyle. That being said, I still like this piece for it’s ability to tell the story as it is instead of as we think it could or should be.

    Even if those kids DO choose to live that life, we still don’t know what situations lead them to be so devoted to being “punk as fuck”. I’m sure each of these people, despite the fact that I disagree with their choice of lifestyle, has a rich story that would illicit some form of sympathy from us were we to hear it through.
    All that being said, I don’t blame the writer/photographer for not grilling these kids on what made them who they are.

  13. Don’t feed the trolls, Matt. It only makes them hungrier. Who cares what a couple of arrogant cynics think anyway? I didn’t do the articles for them, I did it for the people who care enough to help.
    Bad publicity is still publicity …and that’s what I wanted, more eyes on the issue.
    I appreciate all the kind words, everyone.

  14. Liberty on said:

    I dont think ruffy liked his picture being taken

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