“Fashion knows not of comfort. What matters is the face you show the world,” so says Gossip Girl‘s Eleonor Waldorf. But there is a difference when the discomfort comes from wearing the wrong pair of heels—not from being homeless.
Scroll down for videos
Despite being a successful fashion photographer, New York’s Mark Reay may not actually be able to afford all the glitz and glamour that should have come after he rubbed shoulders with the who’s who in the biz.
Still, he pushed on. The successful photographer remains handsome, well-groomed, and articulate, which is why people are surprised to learn that he may be homeless.
Mark Reay’s troubles started in the late ’90s, when he had to take care of his dying father. Back then, he decided to start modeling to make some money, even affording a $200 apartment in West Chelsea. When his father died, things got rough, and he decided to give fashion photography a try.
He shared with The Guardian, “I knew the fashion world, so I’d go to the shows and hang around backstage taking pictures. People knew me from my modelling and I got a few decent shots. I figured I might have an eye for it and maybe I could make some money from it. It sounds glamorous, but I never got the campaigns. That’s where the money is. I foolishly believed I would make a decent income.”
It was only the beginning of his trials. Soon, he was living off his savings, working as a waiter and selling a few photo stories to Web sites, but none of it was enough to sustain the glamorous New York lifestyle.
Soon, he was homeless in the South of France, when he worried that he overstayed his welcome at a friend’s place. Toting his laptop and camera with him, he traveled to Saint-Tropez and ended up sleeping in the hills.
Sharing his experience, Reay mentioned, “It wasn’t so bad to start.I would store my laptop and cameras in a duffel bag in a garbage bag and hide it in the bushes. I had a small bedroll with me so I could sleep. I would get up at 6:00 a.m., go to the park, and head to the restaurants that had those outdoor sinks. I’d wash myself down, wash my t-shirt or shirt so it could dry in the sun and slick my hair back with water and go sit in a cafe.”
He noted that his look and confidence helped him buy time, as people assumed he’s a well-off man on vacation. He added, “I had the confidence to just sit there, and I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Reay also kept up appearances. Despite dwindling savings, he made it a point to treat himself to rotisserie chicken and the cheapest chilled rosé he could find in mini marts. He explained, “At night, I would put on a fresh shirt and go to one of the fancy bars with my wine in my bag. Again, maybe because I had a certain look, no one ever checked my bag. I’d just go in, nick a glass off the counter, and drink my wine surrounded by millionaires.”
He eventually got tired of his lifestyle and went back to New York in 2006. He was broke and didn’t want to rely on his family in New Jersey, nor his friends. He moved into a hostel but eventually had to succumb to living on a friend’s apartment building’s rooftop in the East Village. The place where he used to kick back to have cocktails became his home for the next six years.
All he had on him are a few items of clothing and a thrift store blanket. Instead of getting a home, he decided to renew his gym membership, which only cost him $70 a month. It is there that he got access to showers, electricity, and even a toilet. “I used to wash my clothes there—I had a few shirts, a pair of trousers, and socks—and dry them under the hand dryers.”
While he made it sound easy, Mark admitted that he had his share of difficulties as well: he learned to tip over his pee bucket, shiver in the cold under his tarpaulin home, and risk his life as he hopped fences. His workload has been improving, but with about $30,000 a year, it was hardly enough to live in the Big Apple.
His remarkable story is being covered in a documentary made by his friend, director Thomas Wirthensohn. It’s titled Homme Less, and it addresses the issue of how people are willing to go to pretend that things are fine despite facing problems like losing their homes.
Mark worked hard, and eventually, all the nights he spent homeless made way for better things—he was able to get off the roof last summer, and he only had positive thoughts to share regarding his experience. He shared, “I don’t feel anything but lucky. I chose highly improbably careers; I mean, modelling, acting, and photography—they’re well known for economic uncertainty. But I get that it’s a peculiar situation, and I chose that peculiar situation.”