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.