Shooting beggars and homeless people…

.. and not getting stabbed

This happened last week:  http://petapixel.com/2013/06/19/woman-stabbed-to-death-in-los-angeles-after-photographing-panhandlers/ and as you can imagine, the internet is abuzz with a vast myriad of opinions.

Some people are glad the women was attacked and glad that she died, some people see this as a horrible tragedy.

And, I’ve read some really bad advice about how to shoot homeless people and because this is the internet and I am me, I have some things to say about shooting such subjects.

Disclaimer: I don’t know the deceased lady or the people she took photos of. The precise circumstances around the attack aren’t known to me. This meant to be general advice, use at your own discretion.

A few years ago, whilst holidaying in Sydney, I shot an assignment for a magazine. That article was never run, but I had a great time taking photos and collecting stories. This brings me to my first point, if you are taking photos of people with out their permission, expect them to not be happy about it. The lady in the article was asked for some money for the photos, she declined and it escalated from there. Frankly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often.
My approach to this is to approach the person, be direct and clear about what you want. If the person was begging, I always offer a few gold coins along with the explanation. When out shooting like this, I have a roll or two of $2 coins.  If you are declined, respect that persons wishes and move on.

My second piece of advice is this. If you aren’t approaching the person and talking to them, finding out who they are and what their story is, what the fuck are you doing? No really, stop and ask yourself that question.
When I shoot people, which is rarely, I love to know something about them. When I see pictures by others, I want to know the story.

Meet Warrick,

Warrick

Warrick, a war veteran, possibly the Vietnam War. He didn’t really want to talk about it much.

Warrick has a story to tell, you won’t know what it is unless you ask him. The whole point to these photos is to tell a story, to give depth and meaning to a scene that we see everyday and willingly ignore. Take a notebook, learn something about the person.

So, sometimes you won’t get a chance to approach first. People move and environmental lighting is dynamic. The best thing to do here is to assess the situation and make a sensible call. If you can, try to at least make visual contact with the person and see if they appear to be ok with you taking a photo. Again, if they aren’t, move on.
If they are, take the shot/s and then try to make contact.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your subject just won’t give you the time of day.

Hobo Dog

This dog wouldn’t even look in my direction!

Ok, in all seriousness, approach this facet of street photography with respect. Homeless people are people, they have rights and desires. You might feel like a photo of a hobo adds character to your collection, but taking that photo without permission could be demeaning to that person. I grew up in some pretty iffy circumstances and I know how easy it is to go from living like a normal person to having no job, no money and no home. It’s pretty shit and it’s a very thin line. I also know that I wouldn’t have appreciated such superficial attention, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be so down on your luck and then to be treated like a freak.

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2 thoughts on “Shooting beggars and homeless people…

  1. I agree people should ask for permission. A few years ago, I took a picture of a vegetable seller in a market in France and he really didn’t like it at all and gave me the evil eye. I haven’t taken pictures of people I don’t know ever since, but the punishment here doesn’t fit the crime and we must never justify or condone murder as a means of settling a dispute or crime.

    • I agree, murder is uncalled for.
      I specifically chose to not talk about the incident, other than to reference it for context, as I’m not really interested in being involved in that debate.

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