Portrait Project Captures New York City's Homeless09:15

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If you're in New York City over the next few weeks, you might notice some interesting photos in a church and subway stations near Washington Square, and public phone booths around Manhattan.

The portraits of homeless men and women — sitting on the ground, maybe with a change cup, or wrapped in blankets — are part of a new public art exhibit opening Monday, May 19, by photographer Andres Serrano and presented by "More Art."

Serrano is also known for his controversial work in 1987 that showed a crucifix in a pool of urine. It was called "Piss Christ."

Andres Serrano joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to discuss his months-long project engaging with New York's homeless population.

Interview Highlights: Andres Serrano

On the impetus behind the project

"It occurred to me, you know, back in October of last year, that in walking around, I saw more homeless than ever. I decided to do this piece, a conceptual piece, and I bought the signs of the homeless, the signs they used asking for money. And I would explain to people, I'm gonna — you know, every sign is a story. I'm gonna collect these signs to tell your story. That was back in October through November. And then in early January, I decided to go back to the streets, and this time to photograph the homeless."

On common reactions to the homeless in New York

"Most people don't even see them or recognize them or acknowledge them. One thing that was was very interesting was that, more than once, as I was photographing someone on the street, a passerby would come by and put money in their cup. And one girl that I was photographing, she said to me, 'You know, that man, he sees me every day, and he's never given me any money, but because you're taking my picture, he put a dollar in there.' To me, that meant that, you know, yeah, these people, it's all of a sudden, you recognize them as individuals. You're not paying attention to them, but the fact that I'm paying attention makes you pay attention to them, and makes you want to do something."

On whether or not he regrets "Piss Christ"

"I feel regrets about a lot of things, but not about 'Piss Christ,' no. In fact, I'm very proud of 'Piss Christ,' and I'll tell you why: there was a time when religious art, during the Renaissance and before, was the only important art in the world. It was the only art that mattered. Religious art is no longer great art, you know? It's no longer in fashion. So I feel like, in a way, I've reclaimed that territory as an artist, you know, and as a Christian artist, with 'Piss Christ,' to say this is a contemporary religious work that is important."


This segment aired on May 19, 2014.