My picture of the day...shot a couple of weeks ago.
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...
Seconds later a woman also put a twenty in her cup. She tried to give that one back too. She truly was the person I thought she was when I first walked by her. She was honest, thoughtful and grateful. And that is why I am posting these pictures and telling this story.
I am not writing this post for any self gain. I am posting it because I want to find a way to help this woman. Not just with throwing some spare change in her direction. I want to find a way to get her off the street and give her a fresh start on life. I'm not personally in a position to be able to help her on my own - I don't even know if I could find her again and I don't even know her name. But I do know that miracles can happen in this crazy internet world and I'm hoping this can be one of them.
There must be some powerful people and/or groups out there that have the where-with-all to save this beautiful woman from her current destiny. Can we all figure out how to do this together? I know we can't fix the entire homeless problem that runs rampant in this country and the world, but maybe we can help this one person. And then maybe another. And another.
I'm hoping you will share this in your social media and maybe it will take off and we can give a miracle to this human being. If you know something about getting people off the streets, no someone in the media or want to help me in some way, please EMAIL ME. I have no idea what to do next but I do know it will take a village of people and I will be happy to volunteer in any way I can.
I took just four pictures of her. This was the last one...
As I said above, I don't know who she is, where she might be today and whether or not she even wants help. I don't know the status of her medical or psychological well being. Either way, I still think we should give it a shot.
Thanks for reading.
I'm big on people watching. Since I was little, I've loved to imagine what it would be like to be that other person I'm looking at. While I'm not a Peeping Tom, if someone's drapes are open I will take a look in to see how they live. I'm curious about people's lives and what makes them tick.
More and more, I am finding out that most people are presenting an image. Or maybe it's that we are assuming things about others without them having to present an image. Recently, I've learned that several people I know are facing harder times than I would have imagined. I'm not sure if it was my assumption, or their ability to present an image...maybe a little bit of both. And when it comes to the artists (pick a talent - painting, photography, filmmaking, writing, music or all of the above) it's even trickier. I meet people and they appear to be flush, making a great living from their artistic endeavors, having gallery shows etc, etc. Then I later find out they are struggling to survive. I'm sure there are people who have met me and presume that I'm making bank. Is that the image I am presenting? Is it the idea if you act the image you will become the image? Or can we confirm that we are all struggling artists working toward that lucky big break the we truly believe is just around the corner?
I love shooting pictures and I want to get my feature film projects funded and made. I want more people to collect my work. I would also like to have a rep that would pitch me for jobs. And a gallery that wants to rep my fine art photography. For some reason, I am lost in making these things happen. I do get paid to take photographs but not at the level and income I believe my work warrants. And I have an artist friend that I think should be making a lot more money than he probably is. In the past year, I've come to realize that quality of the work really has no relation to the monetary returns. Follow Artnet News for a couple of weeks and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
I also have a penchant for shooting homeless people - FYI this post was originally titled "Homeless" with the idea that many of the people we know or are acquainted with could be closer to being homeless than we think. One of the times I went out shooting with Israel Broussard (talented actor and budding photographer) around New York, we ended up in the Bowery and came across these two characters.
It was a Friday in late July, around lunch time. I was immediately fascinated by the guy on the right and asked if I could take some photos. I also liked the sign that makes no sense. We ended up hanging with there for a half hour. I knew the guy on the right was homeless but was surprised that the guy on the left was too. He was sitting on this new computer case which I believe had his computer inside. He had been employed but had recently fell on hard times. Anyway, we introduced ourselves and learned that both were named Peter - the guy on the right is Peter Diaz. Diaz has been homeless for a long time. He had no qualms letting us know he loved his beer and was totally okay with living on the streets.
Hopefully that is apparent in this portrait I took of him.
Peter Diaz was also happy to receive Israel's half-eaten sandwich. The more pictures I took, the more I really appreciated the relationship that these two men had forged. And that neither of them were presenting an image. They were fine with just being themselves, despite the fact they were homeless. They were not bitter and were actually enjoying the simplicity of their lives. At least that's how I remember this encounter.
I've thought a lot about the possibility of being homeless. I was homeless for a couple of weeks when I was barely of age and first moved California. And I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself homeless at some point in the future.
So let me toss out these questions. I'm interested and curious to see if anyone will answer them...Have you ever been homeless? Are you presenting or feel you have to present an image that you are better off than you really are? How far away are you from being homeless?
I'll go first: Yes. Possibly. Probably not as far as I think I am.