Saturday, March 15

Street People

Last December 23rd, just before Christmas I posted what's become a provocative image I made in Europe. Click here to refresh your memory of "If The Fates Allow." At the time it triggered contention, and divided commenters on a couple of important forums. A crunch of email further revealed that North American viewers came away from that image and the comments I made with very different conclusions from viewers living in the rest of the world. One of the points I made here on ImageFiction was:

"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 every 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"

Last week in San Francisco, my experience broadened. Just before Easter, let me show you this...
<- Click here

1. They call this guy a "Street Person" in the City By The Bay. There are a lot of them, so many that the city apparently pays street people a monthly stipend. Many wonder if that payment is an effect of their congregating there, or a cause.
2. The image was made late afternoon along Fisherman's Warf, a seven or eight block area that teems with visitors.
3. Last week the San Francisco City Council voted to implant body shaped plaques into the sidewalks at spots where Street People died. The plaques will carry eulogies to those individuals, a sort of tombstone memorialization to perhaps thousands all along the city's streets.
4. Unlike the beggars in the European streets this street person spoke loudly to no one that I could see. People stopped to listen for a time, but his slurred words, while angry and raw, didn't form a coherent message, rather they appeared to be a stream of unrelated clauses. Were it not for the negative overtones of the term, I'd choose to characterize them as hostile babble.

Some years ago a progressive movement resulted in America closing most of those public asylums which supported the mentally challenged. Instead they were moved at first to halfway houses, and later released to the streets. Their "incarceration" was called a hostile act toward people, who if properly medicated, could live productive and meaningful lives in society. It's not known how many of those released routinely take their meds, or what percentage find the discipline of medicating themselves (medication which is fully subsidized) to be too challenging. It is possible that a disproportionate number of the unmedicated have found their way to the gentle climate of California and the supportive municipal governments in the Bay area.


Markus Spring said...

I have to admit that my first reaction to the image - before continuing to read the text - was dismissive. The "oh not, not again a homeless shot" type of reaction. Having read your words I stand corrected - in the context the picture is good and important.

It's just that I seem to be overfed with those pictures that are usually not put in any context nor connected with information or just an opinion. And - your picture told me again that sometimes both is needed, picture and text. When it is done so convincingly well as in this case, the reader is the winner and the homeless may be in future, too.

Ted said...

(Marcus) There is an art-form largely known to editors called "illios". It is a technical term for short, illustrated essays... or perhaps images with rather long captions. There is an inherent ambiguity in photographs, even scientific and forensic photography. Language is also burdened with ambiguity.
I find that the illio can tighten the meaning of both writer and image maker. It can better focus it to convey the intention of the maker(s). Is it art? Is it craft?

Depends, huh?

Debra Trean said...

hmm I thought I left a message on this and testing to see if this post.

We saw this kind of homeless site often in the bay area and seldom see it in our part of Idaho and I assume it is due to the harsh weather and we live in the country. Always touches my heart and soul because none of us know what choices were made that ended up like this.