For most of my life, I’ve felt like I really didn’t fit in. Ignored, ridiculed, bullied, forgotten…at one point or another, I have had these feelings. It’s not necessarily how I felt about myself, but how I felt those around me perceived me. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, always the last kid (and adult) picked, whatever the game may be.
That is probably why I have such an affinity for shooting abandonment. I feel some kind of connection with those things and places that have been abandoned. Those things that are passed by with nary a glance, more of an eyesore or a nuisance than anything else. I realize that there is something unique in each of these things, there is definitely a hidden beauty. Certainly not beauty in the “classic sense”. I look at these places, objects, rooms, and I marvel at what time and the elements have done to them. They have taken something that was ordinary or nondescript before and changed it into something new and unique. These places and things become something that I look at with awe and wonder.
I can literally spend hours stumbling around in an abandoned property. I forget time, I am too busy looking at what has been given to me. The rotting wood and piles of discarded furniture can make the most amazing shadows when the light is right. Nature can take over and eat away and reclaim whatever it wants, leaving behind something brand new.
I do not stage a photograph. It’s not my “job” to go in a make a pretty picture. It’s my job merely to document what has been left behind. And months later, maybe I’ll go back and see what has changed. Very rarely am I disappointed.
So the set of self-portraits entitled “From the End to the Beginning” can be, at first glance, a pretty bleak and depressing set of photos. There is a good reason for that, in that they are supposed to be “bleak and depressing”. The photos are displayed in chronological order (oldest to newest), as I was dealing with my marriage and my family falling apart piece by piece, day by day.
Some days were better than others. Some days were bad, but I somehow had the capacity to deal with things better on that given day. But on a lot of days, I had emotions that I had to deal with. Sometimes it was just an idea I wanted to convey about myself and my outlook on life. Other days, life was shit, and I had to use my photography to make me think about other things besides my shit life. When I was shooting, it forced me to stop thinking about life and think about the photo. That gave me the time to process my emotions more slowly, and think things through one bit at a time instead of all at once.
If I didn’t have to capacity or the reason to shoot, I’m not sure I would have made it through “the process” with my sanity. There were days where it was THAT CLOSE to the edge. But I DID make it through. That is why the set ENDS with “The Beginning”, because that’s what it is…a beginning of life for me. Every aspect seems new, even if they aren’t. The outlook is better, and I have learned to be grateful for what I DO have, because I have so much more than others.
I sometimes wonder to myself if people look at me as exploiting the homeless in my work neighborhood. Am I merely befriending them and taking their pictures for my own gain (even though, at this point, there is no financial “gain”)? Hell, I really can’t blame people if they DO think that, I wonder about my own motives sometimes. But I know in my heart why I do it.
These people I talk to, that I feed, that I clothe, and that I spend time with, are simply that. People. No better or worse than me. They are just different. A different walk of life, a different set of circumstances, the epitome of “There but for the grace of God go I”. It doesn’t make them inferior to me, and it doesn’t make me better than them. It really only makes me luckier.
Old School. Hollywood. Ponytail. Old Man. Big Boy. Levita. Leesa. Darwin. They don’t trust a lot of people, and I can understand why. Most (not all) people, if they take the time to look at them, usually look with pity (at best) or disgust (at worst). They are pretty well used to it at this point. I guess you get used to anything after this long of a time. Some of them have been on the street for 30-40 years. They have seen friends go to jail, leave town, or die. It’s kind of assumed things aren’t getting better, you just go day to day.
I take the pictures for a couple of reasons. Some of them like having their pictures taken because they like that someone wants to take the time to actually TALK to them and listen to them, and not just ignore them. Maybe, for a moment, it makes them feel like “somebody”. The other reason is to document their existence. Most of us are going to leave our mark on the world, and we will be remembered by friends, family, or for our accomplishments. But who is going to remember them? I will, and there will be lasting images of them to PROVE their existence.
I never thought any of my photos would make an impact on their lives. But I had some pictures from 7 or 8 years ago, taken of the neighborhood homeless when we first moved into our work neighborhood. I was talking to Old Man and Darwin one day, and I mentioned taking a picture of Too Tall years ago. Old Man went on with stories about Too Tall, as they were good friends. I showed him the picture on my phone, and got some prints from that time. It was nice to see him smile as he went through the pictures, reminiscing. It was like a family photo album to him.
Interacting with them really helps keep me grounded. It’s pretty easy to get bummed out, and think “Why don’t I have what so-and-so has? NOT FAIR!” Then I think of them and think of just how lucky I really am.