Street photography can be very sobering sometimes depending on who your subject may be. There are some who specialize in photographs of the homeless. Photographers have the option of just taking their photos, maybe giving them some change, talking to them or possibly assisting them in some way. I have done the candid they never knew I was there shots as well as taking a few moments to say hello and ask may I take their picture. What I have never done and want to get to the point of doing is when I feel it, to talk to them and learn who they are and how they have come to be as they are now.
We all know that many people who find themselves trying to exist on the streets once had everyday lives like you and me. Some became ill and lost all of their money or they lost their jobs and ended up where they are. Some ran away from home or left an abusive situation. Substance abuse and/or mental illness has led many to be out there. Sadly, many of our former military people are out on the streets for various reasons and the list goes on and on. But each is a unique individual with a unique story but how many of us walking past them has taken the time to say hello let alone drop something into their cups?
Are we that busy, that jaded, or have we been burned by someone who was out there hustling on the streets who was not really in need of the money but was doing it as a way to make a buck or sadly doing it to support a habit. We just never really know. Here are two men that I saw out on the streets of New York in their wheelchairs. Were they hustling? Did they really need their wheelchairs? I don’t know and I didn’t care. I just looked into their faces and saw “something.” The first man was stationed on busy 5th avenue in his electric wheelchair (which, sadly, reminded me of the one my father was once in) only wearing one prosthetic leg with his canine companion napping by his side.
At first I just wanted to take his photo because I thought he was interesting because of the chair and his dog. I said hello, dropped a couple of dollars into his cup and took the photos. He then handed me some postcards which featured a photo taken by a Visko Hatfield of him which showed him from the knees down standing on two artificial legs while in the background were many New Yorkers walking busily around him. He hands out the cards to everyone who “donates” to him. On the back of the card it says – Thank you and God bless you from Jackie and Lucky. When I read the card I wanted to go back and talk to him (who knows if he would’ve or not) but sadly I didn’t do it.
The other man I encountered while walking from the garment district back to Times Square. We looked at each other and he greeted me in Spanish and I responded in kind. While standing on 42nd street again doing some candid street shots I saw him wheeling himself towards us. He said hello and very politely asked if we could help out a veteran. I asked him what branch and he replied the Marines. Was he? Did he really need the wheelchair? Who knows but I didn’t care. A couple of dollars, some smiles, a thank you and he was gone. Again I wished I had spoken with him more to learn his story; must work at overcoming my hesitancy.
What I’m trying to say in all of this is that maybe sometimes we should think about what might the story be behind our street photography subject (or behind the person period even if you aren’t doing photography) and to remember this bit of scripture:
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares Matthew 25:40 Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me
Peace be unto you – Teri