In ‘Vernon’s World,’ a Young Photographer Documents the Life of a Homeless Teenager

Text by Gwen McClure | Photos by Sam Wilson

Unaccustomed to the cold, hard floor in his spot next to the door of the public bathrooms in Trenton, Missouri, Sam Wilson, 22, slept badly. In a stall next to him, Vernon Foster, 18, didn’t have the same trouble. By the time Foster woke, Wilson had been in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness for hours, apologizing to the morning walkers as they filtered through the bathroom, surprised to see two young boys asleep on the floor.

“It’s totally weird for people to open up the bathroom door and see two kids sleeping in the stall, and one of them with a camera,” said Wilson.

But the uncomfortable conditions and noise meant that he was awake to capture some of the shots seen in “Vernon’s World,” Wilson’s contribution to the 65th annual Missouri Photo Workshop, which aims to capture the story of small-town Missouri.

It wasn’t just the lack of sleep that gave him the opportunity to shoot. It was primarily the trust that he earned from Foster—and gained in Foster—that allowed him that access. For Wilson to be able to capture the story in a way that he felt was fair and true, that trust had to be mutual. He needs Foster’s confidence for full access, but just as importantly, he needed to believe that Foster was telling and showing him the truth and that he, in turn, could do the same for his audience.

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