Michael O'Brien got out of his car one day in 1975 and sought the acquaintance of a man named John Madden who lived under an overpass. Their initial contact grew into a friendship that O'Brien chronicled for the Miami News, where he began his career as a staff photographer. O'Brien's photo essays conveyed empathy for the homeless and the disenfranchised and won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. In 2006, O'Brien reconnected with the issue of homelessness and learned the problem has grown exponentially since the 1970s, with as many as 3.5 million adults and children in America experiencing homelessness at some point in any given year. In Hard Ground, O'Brien joins with rewned singer-songwriter Tom Waits, described by the New York Times as the poet of outcasts, to create a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live on the hard ground and recognize our common humanity. For Waits, who has spent decades writing about outsiders, this subject is familiar territory. Combining their formidable talents in photography and poetry, O'Brien and Waits have crafted a work in the spirit of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which James Agee's text and Walker Evans's photographs were coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative elements. Letting words and images communicate on their own terms, rather than merely illustrate each other, Hard Ground transcends documentary and presents independent, yet powerfully complementary views of the trials of homelessness and the resilience of people who survive on the streets.
TOM WAITS is critically recognized as one of America's most influential and significant songwriters. In a career that has spanned four decades, he has delved into the worlds of recording, literature, and live performance, as well as theater and film as both actor and composer. His songs chronicle the lives of both the misbegotten and the entitled while wrestling with life's big themes: love, loss, war, grace, madness, God, corruption and beauty. Waits has won two Grammy Awards and an Oscar nomination.