Photographer Aims to Raise Homelessness Awareness Through Stunning Portrait Series

"It's heartbreaking and inspiring to talk to people who are struggling on this very fundamental level," Martin Schoeller tells PEOPLE

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Courtesy Martin Schoeller

Photographer Martin Schoeller has been raising awareness of homelessness in the U.S. by making portraits of people living on the street in Los Angeles, and publishing this work himself on Instagram, @martinschoeller. But it's not all about the imagery: Schoeller is also aiming to raise $200,000 for the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, a group that provides hot, nutritious meals every night to those who are homeless. "It's heartbreaking and inspiring to talk to people who are struggling on this very fundamental level," he tells PEOPLE. "Photographing famous people is more stressful owing to time constrains, the watchfulness of handlers and all of the built-in expectations. Separation from that apparatus of image-making is unusually gratifying."

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Courtesy Martin Schoeller

To make the portraits, Schoeller built a makeshift studio on the corner of Sycamore and Romaine in West Hollywood, setting up a backdrop and a generator for his signature lighting. While photographing people, he conducted brief interviews with each subject, allowing them to tell their own stories. To date, he's photographed more than 100 individuals; several of their stories follow

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BLAYKE MORGAN

BLAYKE MORGAN
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"I'm from Compton. [Straight Outta Compton] was … an amazing and heartfelt documentary in my mind because they paved the way for young brothers out the 'hood, they not only have to sell a sack or play some ball to get out, they could get a microphone or on top that they could even go get a job."

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ALEXIS GAINES

ALEXIS GAINES
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"We lost our house, me and my husband, and we got two kids, two boys, and … well I don't like to talk about it but basically we lost our place 'cause of an eviction. My kids are now with my sister and they're basically gonna be staying there until we get a place to put a roof over our head. It's making me cry more and it's making him more humble to deal with the situation but the frustration of looking for housing is very hard."

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ERIC DAVIS

ERIC DAVIS
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"There are things going on between my family and me. I don't want to talk about it."

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KIMBERLY CHAMBERS

KIMBERLY CHAMBERS
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"I'm 33. I've been out here for five years. I used to live in Pasadena and my foster mom was really nice, real cool with me. She did everything for me, everything."

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CHRISTINA NELSON

CHRISTINA NELSON
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"I've been going here for two years. [I like the food.] The salad works out."

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CHRISTIAN A.

CHRISTIAN A.
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"It's been about two years since I been on the street."

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JOSEPH LEGASPI

JOSEPH LEGASPI
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"I'm a volunteer [at the Food Coalition] mostly any days that I'm here but mostly on Tuesdays I'm here and whenever Ted needs me. 'Cause I was homeless, well, I'm homeless now, and they do so much for everyone, for all of us, and so I like to just give back. It makes me feel good and it gives me something to do that's positive."

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DANNY OWNBY

DANNY OWNBY
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"I want to go for special effects make up. That's where I'm at right now going to school."

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IVORY SEARS

IVORY SEARS
Courtesy Martin Schoeller

"A lot of shelters have bed bugs. That's why I stay away from shelters. I just eat at the shelters, I don't sleep at the shelters. I'd rather sleep outdoors somewhere. I know I have clean linen and stuff in my suitcase. I carry my house with me. It's my suitcase. I sleep right up the street. I say 'I'm gonna keep on keeping on.' It keeps my health and strength up, do what I need to do daily. Stay with the word, stay with the man upstairs."

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