Downtown Eastside residents Frank Thompson and his pal Bingo Dawson are both finalists in this year's 'Hope in Shadows' photography contest. They are among 200 people given free disposable cameras who had three days last June, to see what they could see.

"She got that focused look," says contest winner Robyn Livingstone. "She looked determined, like we are in the Downtown Eastside."

When the Pivot Legal Society began the contest and calendar project six years ago, all they wanted was to raise money to make life a little better for area residents.

Organizer Paul Ryan says their first notion was to hire professional photographers to capture pictures of the notoriously gritty neighbourhood.

"But instead of hiring pros we put the cameras in the hands of citizens," says Ryan.

"There are many talented people in the Downtown Eastside who haven't been given a chance to show what they can do."

But over the six years the event has become much more than just a photo contest. It challenges the notion there is no joy or beauty here.

"People down here are the ones who see what's good about the neighbourhood because they live here and have friends," says Pivot's John Richardson.

"And anyone who lives or works here knows this is the friendliest neighbourhood in Vancouver."

The calendar has become a best seller. This year all 12,000 calendars pressed are expected to be sold well before Christmas.

For years, the community's incumbent MP Libby Davies, has handed out calendars to all kinds of politicians in Ottawa.

"It really portrays the Downtown Eastside in a very real, authentic way," says Davies.

"There are so many stereotypes and negative images about this neighbourhood, but when you see the calendar, you see the laughter and the hope."

"We the people in the neighbourhood, make the images, we then chose those images and then we take them out and market them on our behalf for ourselves," says contest winner Garvin Snider.

So extra money is being made by people who really need it, but even more enriching is how the photographs show that the Downtown Eastside has a stronger sense of community than most other places in the province.

The photos will be on exhibition at the Pendulum gallery until October 18.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Peter Grainger