Sunday, December 23

If The Fates Allow

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Unsurprisingly this image drew some polar responses when I posted it on a number of forums yesterday. It also drew an astonishing number of viewers relative to the number of responses it generated. I wonder what that means?

I have some thoughts about this image:

1. The title might be insensitive. But I wonder if this sort of image Is a screed or a scripture? Is this what happens when nuance disappears? Does the word, "propaganda" spring to mind? Or is your first thought, "compassion"? This image is not subtle, it forces you to review something other than the craftsmanship or aesthetics. No responder on any forum.... and this is very unusual... commented on the palette, the symmetry, the composition, or some photographic element that should or should not be there.
2. This picture was not taken in North America. That's important since so much of the rest of the world enjoys thinking that North America is a place that went from barbarism to decadence without ever passing through civilization. This is a normal scene on the streets of many cities outside of North America but not, as far as my experience tells me, here.
3. It is possible that this person is a con-artist. It is possible that this person is part of a ring of people who are sent out onto the street each morning by "managers" who use them as some sort of human signs, as compassion triggers, and that the handlers actually collect most of the money. It is possible that this is a form of extortion against cities and people who are quite compassionate but that these handlers hope to humiliate them to tourists by displays like this.
4. It is possible that this babushka wearing, skirted person is a burly man.
5. Speaking of craft. I wanted to suggest "bustle" here along with an essential lack of urban impersonality. I wanted to express motion, and crowds and a clear cityscape. And of course I wanted to reinforce the pathos which the figure is enacting.
6. One morning before sunup I came upon a group of tough looking guys in pricey leather jackets arranging these beggar people on the streets. Concern for my immediate health kept me fro taking pictures of them as they barked orders at the beggars placing them carefully into pathetic poses and dropping their tiny tin cans into just the right positions to complete the tableaus. Their language was not Italian neither was it French or Spanish. I'm guessing the tough guys grab a big piece of whatever people donate to these figures. I'm guessing that most Italians are aware of what's going on. Why it's tolerated, I have no idea.

It is also probable that at this time of year this image is an iconic voice for a significant number of people who face the same Christmas spirit as the rest of us. It's with that probability in mind... that I posted it.



pnfphotography said...

Ted - I felt compassion when seeing this it reaks of the big city to me. I feel very touched by those of us who are not well most often and find them selves in this way. Sure there are people who pretend but I would gather to say FEW. We had homeless people in far greater numbers in Calif than I have seen in Idaho due to the harsh climate I would imagine. But this moves me..... as it should.

Life is about decisions we make and sometimes the path one takes leads them to a very sad space. It is not for us to judge as one never knows until they spend some time in that persons shoes.

Merry Christmas dear person....your words are magical your art is a vision and your sharing nature is a gift I treasure.

Be Well.....

Bill Birtch said...

Very compelling image Ted. A reminder in this season of over indulgence that not everyone is so fortunate.

Enjoy your time with family and much happiness to you and yours in 2008.

advman said...

As much as I hate to reinforce your prejudices ... :)

... but this has in fact become very common on the streets of western Europe. All those people are brought from eastern Europe, from the poorest regions, and those who are displayed, have been selected for being maimed and crippled. It is a business, a cynic and heartless business, and it is certainly not run by those who are on display. That's for the facts.

How that can be? Europe has been divided for almost half a century, and when the communist system broke down, its social system broke down as well. Yes, Communism in its concretely existent form was extremely inefficient, had degenerated into a totalitarian perversion of the original ideas, that was in one line with any other authoritarian system, but Communism did care for its people. They were not fed well, but fed they were.

And then came the breakdown, and with it came capitalism in its most extreme form. The people whom you saw on the streets of Italian cities, those people are the losers of capitalist triumph in eastern Europe. And it's not only beggars, it's the same with prostitution. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, prostitutes in Austria were mostly Austrian, but in the early 1990s, most of them came from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, and to the same degree as these countries stabilized economically, the regions of origin went eastwards. Romania was next, and I believe that today it's the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

And now? Some people give, some don't. Many complain, and the fact that it is a business, everybody knows that it is a business, everybody suspects that the beggars can hardly keep anything at all, this very fact fuels indifference.

Probably it would be possible to get rid of the beggars by strictest application of the laws, but that would certainly be a kind of cosmetics, right? After all, they don't hurt anybody, and that they let themselves be exploited is one thing, but what when this allows them to at least survive?

I think that even for the remotest and poorest regions of eastern Europe, this will be over in maybe 10 or 20 years. And then? Well, I guess the situation in Africa does not seem to improve substantially, so the frontier will not go east but south.

Or maybe not, and we too will build walls that will allow us to live in blissful ignorance of the world's poverty. I don't know, I have no solution.

The image? Hmm ... I am not sure about the "motion" effect. I would have preferred a blur. As it is, it looks a little like the crowd is shaken by an earthquake. But the idea of motion is sound.

Thanks for the provocation :)


Trub said...

Is it that we read the content not the technique because of the time of year? Is there the same emotion to it in June? Are we forced to walk around this person? What does that say about us? If we don't view these subjects do the dissappear? Are we closer to solving the problem by seeing it? Can one photograph change a heart? Are we protected by distance?

I have been MIA but back now. I must digest two months of your mistifs.

Ted Byrne said...

(pnf) And a Merry to you and yours. Yes, life is about choices. And I tried to contrast some here in this image. I left it to the viewer to determine what they were and what they would be.

(Bill) Good points Bill. I wonder if the image does not also invite us to bask a bit in those parts of our fortunes which are good? Merry...

(Andreas) Capitalism is a gale of creative destruction (the words are Joseph Schumpeter's). It is the nature of capitalism to create continuous dislocations largely to avoid the massive collapse of everything while generally pulling the rewards to the greatest number upward. HOWEVER.. before you wince... those dislocations are impersonal, brutal, and devastating upon those who are... dislocated. Capitalism, like any great beast mindlessly trampling along the crust of an ancient plain... capitalism creates cracks which real people fall through. While it is a tide that raises more ships than any other ever before known to humankind, its mercurial tides need damming and channeling so that the most fragile people are protected from crack-falling. Too often these uncomfortable side effects of the capitalist system prompt good people to call for its destruction. That's a baby/bathwater thing. What good people have to do is find ways to anticipate the way the beast careens about and move the huddled masses out from underfoot.

(trb) It is so pleasing to me that I finally posted an image which has almost universally caused viewers to react to their interpretation of the meaning lurking behind the image, rather than to the image itself. It's so hard on the various forums and websites to get photographic artists to wrestle with ideas/feelings rather than with composition/form/shape/texture/palette. You're point is SO interesting. Perhaps it is as you contend a combination of the content of this image and the feeling of the season which created that result.

It's good to have your insight back.

To all of you... the best Christmas....