Homeless photographers capture a side of Milan that's rarely seen

  • A public bicycle station in Milan. The bike share program in Milan has been incredibly popular. Here, a single bike remains at one of the stations.
  • A woman walks down the street in the Porta Ticinese area in the south of Milan. The whole area has been cleaned up for the Expo, which runs from May 1-Oct. 31.
  • A construction site in the Porta Ticinese area south of Milan.
  • Piazza Duca d’Aosta, in front of Central Station, Milan.
  • Street scene, Milan, photographed from a public bus.
  • Homeless people sleep in a dormitory in the city of Bia Betti, in the Bonola area.
  • An old abandoned building in the north of Milan, where homeless people often sleep.
  • A dormitory in Via Betti, in the Bonola area, which provides a place for homeless people in Milan to sleep.
  • A tabletop soccer table sits in front of a garage for motorcycles in Milan.
  • The Duomo Cathedral, Milan.
  • A homeless man sleeps in an underground passage in Central Station in Milan.
  • Scene at the Piazza del Duomo, Milan.
  • Steps in the new area of the Piazza Gae Aulenti near Garibaldi Station in Milan. The steps lead to the Piazza Gae Aulenti.
  • A woman walks in the rain in Milan.
  • An old abandoned area in the north of Milan between Sesto San Giovanni and Monza where many homeless people often sleep. The area also attracts graffiti artists.
  • A woman waits for the tram in the center of Milan.
  • Beds are seen at Viale Ortles, a dormitory in Milan, where homeless people can apply for a spot during in the winter, when it’s cold.
  • People wait for a public bus at a bus stop in Milan.
  • A bicycle sits in front of a furniture shop in the center of Milan.
  • A scene on a public bus in Milan.
  • An area in the north of Milan between Sesto San Giovanni and Monza, which used to be a hub of textile production. Now it is a place where homeless people and drug addicts often come.
  • A young man walks down a street with his dog.
  • A former public bathroom where homeless people would often sleep. The city closed the bathrooms when cleaning up for the Expo.
  • A woman with her grandchild waits for a bus in Milan. Many parents work in Milan, leaving their children to be cared for by their grandparents.
  • Three women talk in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the main shopping areas in Milan.
  • A man sleeps on a bench in Quarto Oggiaro in Via Aldini.
  • A woman looks at a homeless man on the main shopping street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, in the heart of Milan.
  • A dilapidated sign for a closed trattoria in the Navigli area of Milan.
  • A mother and her daughter in Piazza San Babila in Milan.
  • A man drinks out of a water fountain in the Piazza Largo Marinai, a big green public place in Milan with public playgrounds for children and places to play bocce ball for older people. 
  • A woman walks along one of the main shopping streets, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, in the heart of Milan. 
  • People walk into and out of the Piazza del Duomo metro station in Milan.
  • People enjoy a spring day in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the main shopping streets in Milan. 
  • A cosplayer dressed as Darth Vader is seen at the comic fair on the fairgrounds of the Expo in Milan. 

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What does it mean to see a city through the eyes of its unseen?

That is one of the questions animating a groundbreaking photography project that put cameras in the hands of Milan’s homeless population and asked them to document the Italian city from their own, unique perspective.

“The project started one year ago thanks to an idea of a friend of mine, a journalist who is very active in Milan and cares a lot about the homeless,” says Gianmarco Maraviglia, the founder of Echo, a photo agency in Milan. “So we selected 15 homeless people, some of them from the train station, others selected by a municipal office that takes care of the homeless, and we started this photojournalism course. It’s a 3-month workshop, and I taught them photojournalism and gave them cameras so they could shoot around Milan.”

The project eventually led to a exhibition in Milan and major media exposure across Italy, where Maraviglia and his students were lauded in television reports and news magazines. But Maraviglia wanted to do something more for the homeless photographers, some of whom showed promise with the medium.

“After the project was finished, I decided to do something more for them – not a social project, like this was – but some of them were really passionate about photography. So I tried to consider them as real photographers.”

Maraviglia brought four of his homeless students into Echo, his photo agency, as regular contributors working on a new project. With Milan set to host the upcoming 2015 World Expo – whose theme this year focuses on food security issues – he set them to capturing a side of the city that the world rarely sees.

“It’s not a negative view of the city, just different,” Maraviglia says. “They have access to different places that you wouldn’t normally see … I just want to say, ‘Milan is this, but it is also this.’”

“The main topic of Expo 2015 is “Feeding the Planet,” so all the countries in the world have pavilions here presenting new technology for food – but who can say something about food better than homeless people, who struggle every day to survive? The project was born.”

Maraviglia says that while he has high hopes for the photographers he has taken under his wing, he isn’t sure what will become of them. “Of course it’s not easy, but all I can do for them I will do it,” he says, noting his very personal relationship with the four. “You cannot imagine how important this is to them.” 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography 

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