Honolulu, Hawaii-based photographer and law student Diana Kim says she can trace her love of photography back to her father, who used to own a photography studio on the island of Oahu. When she was just five years old, her parents split, and Kim began to live with friends and relatives, even staying in parked cars at times. She lost touch with her father who became an absentee dad.
In 2003, Kim began a long-term photo-project about the homeless, and in 2012, she made a shocking discovery. She found her dad among the homeless she was documenting in Honolulu. The chance encounter brought the pair back together again, sparking an extraordinarily moving journey of love and forgiveness in the face of mental illness, homelessness, and hardship.
The 30-year-old told ABC News, “Some of the earliest memories I have of my father is of him giving me Ring Pop candies whenever my mother and I would visit him. I had an insatiable craving for sweets and he would go behind my mother’s back and sneak me gummy bears and Ring Pops.”
Despite her tough childhood, Kim managed to build a happy life for herself. Today she has a family of her own with her husband and two sons, and has pursued her passion for photography, advocacy, and law.
After nearly a decade of photographing the homeless for her project. She found her dad.
“I found him standing at the corner of a busy intersection staring into the asphalt. His hair was matted and his head rolled in small circles. . . I inched closer towards him, feeling a sense of uncertainty, and finally found the courage to call out to him. He didn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me. I slowly stepped closer and mustered up the courage to tap him on the shoulder. Still nothing. He didn’t look up. He didn’t turn around. By now there were a couple of pedestrians who had noticed my efforts, and I could feel their eyes burning into my back and face. I could feel their curiosity pierce through the space between my father and I. The vast emptiness between us was broken by a woman who approached me and said, ‘Don’t bother, he has been standing there for days.’
“A part of me wanted to scream at this woman, and the world, for being so callous. I wanted to yell that he was my father, that she was a heartless person to not care. But I realized that none of that would change the circumstances. So instead of screaming at her, I faced her and said, ‘I have to try.'”
“There were nights when I wouldn’t find him,” she continued. “And other days when I least expected it, and he would be standing on the corner of a street. He suffered from severe schizophrenia, and left untreated, he was not always responsive. There were many instances when it appeared as if he was arguing with someone, but nobody was there.”
Kim continued to bring food to her father and urged him to seek treatment, but it wasn’t until he suffered a heart attack just last fall that he was finally convinced.
Today, he’s made a rather startling turn around. He’s continuing his treatment, seeking a part-time job, and even has plans to visit his family in South Korea.