All Great Things . . .

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

From a distance, I thought I had seen a body lying in the park.
Although it was evening, it wasn’t yet dark.
It’s not as though I expected a mattress or blanket to be stark
But while the cold rain fell the body did not move from its mark.

Upon my approach I saw that the man was not dead.
He was simply dozing with his duffel bag under his head.
By his side were two fresh loaves of bread
That he would clearly use to sustain himself when he would later rise to tread.

It wasn’t my first time seeing a man in such a dire strait.
I had by then seen more homeless people on the streets than I can calculate.
A searing blade of steel still gutted me and rendered me distrait,
Although my heart sang for knowing that the man had not become late.

Seeing this man without a roof, I was tempted to stir him but my sensibilities did protest.
The consequences of interrupting such slumber might prove too much of a test.
It’s quite common for transient souls to be socially, politically, mentally and even chemically stressed.
So, to avoid the danger I thought it’d be best to just let him rest.

Street photography is a controversial genre in itself. Homeless photography is an even more delicate sub-genre. I don’t deliberately set out to make homeless images but when the situation arises, and the message to not let the circumstances get swept under a rug is overwhelmingly in my face, I start shooting.

“Don’t shoot street performers or the homeless.”  I hear this precept and the reasoning behind it repeated in many street photography discussions. As logical as it seems to me on the surface, I can’t adhere to it. Here’s why:

I am an illustrator first, and a photographer second, a close second. I understand and value the Western Art premise of “Ars gratia artis” but I also understand and try to live up to a much older ideal of art for purpose.

When I head out to shoot, my prime intention is to tell the story of a community, not through photojournalism but through street photography; a genre that deliberately ignores the strict rules of photojournalism by adding greater freedom of artistic creativity and expression. Street photography is a perfect genre to be included in an illustrator’s repertoire because that’s what illustration is about, conveying stories usually through 2D images. The homeless are bona fide aspects of most communities in the world; it’s been that way for literally thousands of years. It seems illogical to me to disregard them if one’s intent is to tell the story of a community from the 19th century onward.

As I have said above and before, it’s never a focus of mine to go out and photograph them but I have occasionally come across situations in which I absolutely had to document that specific example of life in a city. I took the shot, and I’ll do it again if the “decisive moment” is right. On the flip-side, I’ve deliberately overlooked far more of such instances because I am sure that taking those shots would only be gratuitous, not practical, which leads to that other intent of mine.

Homelessness and poverty in general have always been sensitive issues for me but the volume was turned way up on me from my years of living in the neighbourhood of Landsdale. I haven’t yet come up with a final solution for homelessness and poverty. Like most, I’m only able to do small things on occasion to help someone make it to the next day or hour (unlike most who have that ability, I’ve actually done something to help the needy). I can’t throw in the towel on the dilemma, nevertheless. I hope such images motivate others to individually or collectively keep trying to devise ways, big or small, of combating the monumental addictions, mental illnesses, poor choices, social disabilities and genuine economic hardships that cause certain individuals to slip into abject poverty and even homelessness.

When I found this man, he was sleeping at the edge of Beasley Park. It had been raining hard earlier but the downpour had turned to minor drizzle by the time I made this image. More homeless people were in a lineup to receive food from the nearby Good Shepherd Centre, a men’s hostel on Cannon and Mary Streets. I think this is where he got his two loaves of bread from. The tree he laid under really didn’t provide him with too much shelter but he dozed off there anyway with his loaf of sliced bread at his side, and a group of children running around in the nearby playground.

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