Laura walked toward me on a warm morning, wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. I guess that now it is known as a hoodie. Anyway, it seemed a bit overkill for the temperature.
She confidently walked up to me and asked if I could spare a few dollars, that she had been homeless for six days. I fell into my mantra, “Yes, I can spare a little, but I wonder if you'd help me with a photographic project, yada, yada...” No problem. So I got several shots, smiling and not. I did not direct her, but just clicked as we talked. A huge coincidence: Laura is from East Islip, Long Island, NY. As a youngster, I lived there for three years. She is familiar with the location of our old house.
I asked what had happened six days ago that made her homeless. She and her mother were evicted from a mobile home and were hoping to stay in a shelter that cost $20, could I spare it? I was taken aback, as I am not used to such a brazen approach. I told her no, because I give a few dollars to lots of homeless people (true). As we parted she said, “God bless.”
This encounter was a bit of a conundrum: to post, or not to post. My aim is to NEVER embarrass someone, or portray them in a condescending light. A few years ago I was moved by a photographic project in Naples, FL, a VERY wealth community. Photographer Michelle Tricca photographed MANY residents – head shots – and obtained permission to post prints on the outside wall of an abandoned building. It was impressive. In a newspaper article, she showed side by side headshots of two men. One owned a 10 million dollar house on the beach, the other cleaned his pool. From the headshots, a viewer cold not tell who was who. A description of the project is HERE:
This was powerful to me. I always strive to have strangers be equals, with each other and with me. One way (I think) is to always have eye contact. That way, we are ALWAYS on equal footing for at least 1/100 second. I am not interested in photographing poor people in compromised positions. I always want to show dignity and humanity.
So, Laura's images haunted me a bit. They are certainly not complimentary, and I debated posting them. But the images are her, at least on that day. And the expressions reflect exactly the way she was for that five minutes. They are authentic. Thus, I feel (almost) OK about sharing them.
P.S. While writing this, I learned of Nelson Mandela's death. There can be no better reminder to focus on the positives in humanity. I'll not forget the day he was released from prison. I expected vitriol and riots. Instead, he spoke like a kind gentleman, only calming words. Amazing. If 27 years of my life had been stolen...