Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Witnessing

Step Out for Fall, 2011

Once you start conditioning your mind and your eyes to being more aware of your surroundings, all sorts of things that you might not have normally noticed become visible. “Was that sign always there?” “Didn’t that house used to be blue?” "I never noticed before how the light strikes that tree."
Under normal circumstances our brains have a way of filtering out things we don’t want to see or lack knowledge to comprehend. The story is told of a cultural anthropologist who couldn’t understand why the African tribesman he took the London, a man who had previously never traveled more than a few miles from his Equatorial village, was more amazed by the city’s tall buildings than by an airplane. The reasoning, supposedly, was that the tribesman had absolutely no concept of manned flight and was therefore essentially unable to see, comprehend or be amazed by an airplane.
The late psychic Edgar Cayce once remarked that having the gift of clairvoyance was no prize, and that it was in fact as much a curse as anything. He explained that just as he might foresee happiness in one person’s life, he’d also see the sorrow coming in the life of another’s. For Cayce, the weight of that premonition was the source of considerable physical and mental fatigue.
Being alive and fully aware of the photo opportunities in your surroundings can be the same way because to be perceptive enough to notice those opportunities you have to notice and consciously register all of the things before your eyes, not just the things that are pleasant, pretty or easy on the conscious. 
Like the African tribesman, there might be a lot we see that we don’t want to see or don’t care to fully understand. But when you come upon a scene like the one above, you can’t ignore it. The juxtaposition of the homeless man sleeping on a grate in front of the Brooks Brothers flagship store in New York tells a sad story of our modern times.  While the man sitting on the cold sidewalk may not know where his next meal is coming from or where he’ll sleep tonight, each of the children in the poster in the window above is wearing hundreds of dollars’ worth of stylish and well made clothing that will likely be outgrown before it ever frays or the school year ends.
There are many photographers who do an outstanding job of telling these kinds of stories. I’m not one of them. When I see such sights my first inclination is to not intrude on the person’s life lest I be thought to be exploitative. But sometimes you just have to step up and tell the story that’s taking place before your eyes. 


  1. This reminds me a bit of one of Ken Brown's obsessions:

  2. Powerful photo!
    Did you see Rick Tulka's drawings of homeless people? he had a series of them, but I think he felt some of what you describe here and he abandoned the series after a while.