FEATURE: FASHIONS HOMELESS PHOTOGRAPHER
The fashion industry is depicted as a life full of glamour, devoid of hardships, and posh events attended by only the elite donned in the latest runway collections. This life, however, is only seen by a small fraction of the fashion population while the rest experience the not so glamorous side. Enter Mark Reay, the now ever-popular New York Fashion Week photographer who was homeless for six years.
Now, you’re probably wondering how such a creditable job in the fashion realm could leave one homeless, right? Similar to car mirrors that show that objects are not as always as they seem, the same can be said for Reay’s life.
For six years (2008-2014), Reay called a vacant rooftop of a lower Manhattan building home; a building occupied by a friend who gave him an extra key to the apartment not fully knowing his intentions.
Reay stepped into the fashion industry back in the early ‘90s working as a model, but very quickly learned that money was sparse (Reay was only making $10,000) and labeled himself unsuccessful. He started off in San Francisco, but moved back to New York at the age of 29 after hearing of his deathly ill father. During this time Reay signed on to a few low-key modeling agencies in the city and continued to work doing his best to supplement his income with working as a waiter.
“I had a bit of money and some savings from my modeling and moved into a single-room occupancy – a small room without running water and a communal bathroom. It looked like an Edward Hopper building from the outside, but not so much inside. Still it was very affordable – $200 a month – and in West Chelsea before it was trendy. I was pretty happy.”
For some time after that, after Reay’s father passed in 2000, he continued his modeling career, but things were a bit different this time around as he was in his 40s. Reay proceeded to travel around Europe taking photographs, a makeshift hobby Reay was toying with turning into a career. In 2006, after failing to get a few campaigns, Reay was forced to fall back on his savings, and pick up odd jobs in New York all the while still pursuing his dream to become a photographer. He briefly stayed in a Brooklyn hostel, but upon being convinced the hostel had bed bugs, Reay moved out and refused to live with friends for fear of spreading the infestation.
Reay made the decision to use whatever money he had to upkeep maintenance on his camera, phone and computer—all essentials for furthering his photography career. After pitching various magazines, in the hopes of securing a job shooting New York Fashion Week, Dazed Magazine took a chance and hired him. Good things come to those who wait, for Reay at least, because he has shot NYFW ever since.
Now, during this time, Reay had the dream job down pat but his living arrangement was still less than desirable. It was during this time that Reay truly became homeless and began sleeping on a NYC rooftop and using public bathrooms.
Upon hearing Reay’s story, film director Thomas Wirthensohn immediately wanted to document it. He began filming “Homme Les”, an 87-minute documentary about Reay’s life that premiered at the Doc NYC festival last year.
“I finally got off the roof last summer,” Reay says. “It sounds peculiar, but you have to remember I’ve always been happy traveling around. I don’t feel anything but lucky. I chose highly improbable careers; I mean, modeling, acting and photography – they’re well known for economic uncertainty. But I get that it’s a peculiar situation, and I chose a peculiar situation.”