Monday, June 18, 2018

Mirror Image

Photo: © Stan Banos

Everyday one wonders the streets of this tale of two cities, one is confronted with moral decisions, amongst others: is it right to take photos that feature the homeless, the mentally ill, the "downtrodden?" 

Certainly not a new question to say the least, just one that most certainly needs to keep being asked, examined and challenged. I long ago came to the conclusion that to completely ignore such a blatant, daily reality (as a human being and photographer) was both unrealistic, and hypocritical in its own right. Photography of the homeless has literally been done to death; and yet, so has every other subject and genre of photography and that has certainly never stopped anyone from continuing to practice them. Nor should it. 

The question is: is it done with some manner of respect, does it have any relevancy (social, photographic, or otherwise)- will it, somehow, someway change anything, anything at all? Homelessness in San Francisco was extreme some twenty years ago when I first arrived, it has now metastasized to the point where the city and its police play Whac-A-Mole with the tent communities that appear, disappear and reappear on city streets while residents complain and luxury condos and upscale coffee shops continue to proliferate. Until: 1) affordable housing, 2) jobs with livable wages and 3) necessary programs for drug addiction, the mentally ill and working single moms are properly in place (we're no way even considering that)- it will only continue to worsen, and the newly elected mayor promises yet more of the same...

Intentionally photographing an unwitting stranger is an exploitative affair even under the best of circumstances. And photographing a potentially mentally ill/homeless person w/o permission ever the more so. One tries to do it with a certain amount of dignity and respect, but... Let's face it, the power weighs heavily on the side of the person behind the lens. And just what are that person's intentions: making "art" (really?), documentation, making the world a better place... 

Every couple of years, one does see a serious, rather well done photo essay on some aspect of homelessness- and if nothing else, it may help those who prefer to look elsewhere, finally face reality, albeit in the comfort of their own home. Whether that leads to  some kind of realization, "enlightenment" and action on their part- well...

The photo above graphically serves to remind one of that uneven and innately exploitative experience. I was initially drawn by the mystery of the "bright, shiny object," (ie- the red shroud). I passingly considered the inherent exploitative nature, the possibility that said subject might opt to up and confront me, the reality that it would most likely be a mediocre photo at best. And yet, I took the picture- if only to see if I could further make sense of any of the issues above, and below.

Whenever possible, I try to make these photos anonymous- as in this one. The person I did not take into account photographing was the one reflected. And there I am- hovering directly over my subject (unknowing or not, unwilling or not), in an unquestioned position of detachment and dominance. Perhaps we should always have some such reflection of ourselves somewhere in our images, something to remind us of what we do, how we do it- and how it feels to be on the other side of that instrument and experience, the serendipitous product of someone else's handiwork.


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