I met this woman on the southwest corner of 57th street and 6th avenue (New York) yesterday afternoon. Initially I walked by her because I was meeting some friends at Le Parker Meridien. Around four steps later I stopped. I felt terrible for not stopping when I initially saw her slumped on the side of a trash can. I was stuck to the pavement for what seemed like an eternity - should I keep walking to the hotel or turn around and connect with her in some way.
This woman was not the usual homeless person you see on the street. There was something different about her. Something raw. She had the usual cup with a few coins in the bottom but she wasn't shaking it or asking any passerbys to give her money. There were a few tourists stopped on the corner, their bodies facing toward her but I don't think they even saw her.
I knew I had go back to her and see what I could do for her. Also, in the nano-second that I saw her face and hand I was desperate to photograph her. I've shot lots of homeless people and have a kinship to them and I almost always ask permission to take their picture. I also ask to hear their story (see this blog post). But there was something different with this woman that caused me to hesitate.
I watched the people passing here by for another minute and then I saw a woman kneel down to speak to her and put a couple of bills in her cup. Like me, she was concerned for the well-being of this woman. Finally, I made the decision to infringe on this homeless women's space. I knelt on the pavement in front of her and introduced myself and Pumpkin (my pup) and asked her if she was okay. She mumbled a few words that I couldn't make out. I then asked if I could take her picture. She asked me why I would want to do that. I gave her the most honest answer I could..."Because you are beautiful and special." I know she didn't believe me but it was the truth.
I didn't know her story (and still don't) but I have no doubt that her situation was not her choice and was do to circumstances beyond her control. I saw the innocence in her face and it was full of honesty and emotion. She was like a child. As if someone in heaven had draped her this blanket blanket and dropped her to the sidewalk to see how people would ignore or react or interact with her. Within a minute of me being crouched in front of her, people noticed her and started putting money in the cup.
I took a shot of her. Then a man put a twenty dollar bill in the cup. She quickly plucked it out of the cup and waved it at him, saying "No. Take this back. You might need it to buy something." The man smiled and shook his head, "I don't need it." She put her other hand to her face and I took this photograph...