Photographing the homeless really is a taboo that needs to be discussed; Does it actually help create awareness about the problem, or is it a vulgar intrusion to their privacy? Should you expect from them puppy eyes in order to achieve the perfect shot? – the ‘magic moment’ as film directors define it. Should you be discrete (as if), and hide behind bushes to take a rather mediocre shot that would decently express your point? Should you photograph them at all, after all?
Because we are in college and we’ve done ethics in every single course, i’m a bit preoccupied about what is right and what is wrong. Vice’s Wendy Syfret is very straightforward about it; ”A picture of a homeless person says one thing”, she says. ”I’m an ashole!”. She argues that a homeless person is not a surreal moment that you can use to illustrate the bloody cruel world that we live in. John Barbiaux has a different opinion; He argues that when someone tells you not to take a picture of a homeless person, it’s because they are afraid to do it themselves. It surely is uncomfortable seeing pictures of homeless people, while sitting on your couch, with your expensive laptop, sipping that hot pumpkin spice latte. But sometimes, when it’s not done exclusively to fulfil the artistic ambition of the photographer, it can do great things, such as raise funds and create overall awareness. Such an example is Steve Huff’s project, My Homeless Project. Huff managed to take amazing shots of homeless people after spending time with them, talking with them and buying them a meal. Note that he always asked for permission. What i love about this project is that many of the subjects he’s photographed follow an every day routine that seems natural to them, and only to them, smiling and without complaining.
I’m somewhere in between. I admit that i don’t have the guts to approach them, talk to them, buy them a meal, and then ask for permission to take a photo. I’m the kind of person who will be far away from the subject, zoom in as much as possible, pretending that i’m checking something on my phone, and then take the god damn picture. But i do believe that catching them unaware, while being 100% natural and humane, meaning not staged by a photographer, can capture their realness which may result in a shot that doesn’t necessarily make you feel petty about, but might rather stress out that they are no different from us.
Hiding can result in mediocre pictures (i’m an amateur photographer and you should deal with it!) as you will witness from now on, but at least it makes your point visible. I passed by this man on my way to work, in Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, numerous times before i find the courage to take a picture. Every time, he was with this dog in a leash in the exact same place. The most beautiful thing about it was that the dog always had the same expressions as his owner. When he was happy, it was happy. When he had his head down, it had his head down. When a passerby stoped to give caressing to the dog, he got happy with it. That’s when i got the chance to photograph them. When they were all, unaware and natural. And i think it’s a perfect shot.. Notice how small the words ”I’m Hungry” (Πεινάω) in the box he has in front of him seem comparing to the burst of joy happening in front of our eyes. Now notice the contrast between complete abjection and pure joy. I’ve never thought how much meaning a single word could give to a picture. Is there more powerful words than I’m Hungry? And I Want?
The photo below, although shaky and blurry because i was hiding again, is a perfect example of synergy, as i’ve been told in fancy advertising courses. I’ve been passing by this man for over five years, since he lives in Ano Patissia train station which i use every time i want to commute. He’s sitting in the same place for the past five years that i see him. But i noticed the graffiti just recently. In all its mediocrity, i find this photo a pretty strong comment on the current problem. Society ( Κοινωνία – meaning the welfare system) is there, but at the same time is not. It’s rather distant from the actual problem (the homeless), and the problem doesn’t seem to expect anything from it. It’s looking for a miracle.
As you’ve probably understood by now, i find it ok to take pictures of the homeless as long as these pictures are respectful to them and aiming for a better cause. I hope you saw the connections between the words and the people and how these people relate to these words. I don’t know if i happened to be in the right place at the right time or if i was just desperately trying to find clues to achieve the look i wanted to give to my project. I really want to read your opinions on the idea of finding a relation between words and people in the streets. Also, feel free to share your thoughts on photographing the homeless!