I had a picture in my mind as to what this was supposed to be. How does a person illustrate homelessness? Do you show faces? Are the subjects really homeless? Are they just panhandlers? Are they just disabled? How big is the problem? I could ask questions all day. Then there’s reality. To embark on a project examining Seattle’s homeless problem, I had to go find homelessness. It wasn’t hard.
The news broke of a shooting in a homeless camp, so I went up to Seattle with my camera. Being a photojournalist, I don’t have a problem taking pictures of people, I’ve done it for 15 years. This was different, though. I wasn’t on a news assignment. I wasn’t shooting this for work, I was discovering this for myself. In the process I found out how little I know about Seattle, and about homelessness. Where was this “Jungle” that Seattle officials were cleaning up, and evicting the residents? Where are the tent cities? It didn’t take long to find out. A quick walk toward Pioneer Square was all I needed. I took a path along the freeway, and the first thing I found was garbage…lots of garbage, and little orange caps to needles, and kid’s clothes, and high heels, and used condoms. I kept walking and I found an encampment under a freeway, past a sign that read: “this area is not open to public use of any kind.” I took some pictures and kept going. I found a black couple sleeping under a bridge on Yessler Way…their kid was in the tent next to them. I only saw a small hand inside. I found where they had defecated on the sidewalk. Little kids were playing just a few steps away. I walked past the courthouse, with homeless people loitering by the bus stops. I walked all the way to Pike Place before I found my first panhandler. I took pictures of it all. And I can honestly say that I have never been so moved by something. I have seen many things in my career, but when I got done taking these pictures, I felt like I had tapped into a world that I have been sheltered from, and that I had avoided.
This collage is just five pictures, and information from the recent homeless “One Night” count. I decided to use an embossed black and white style, with the colors only hinted at. I chose this style to make people look closely to see the faces, to see the detail that is hard to make out. I chose a gritty text style, so it wasn’t neat and pretty. The full color pictures would have just not have been as impactful. These people are on the fringes of society. I saw lawyers walking past them in $2,000 bespoke suits as if there was no one else there. I plan on adding a few more terms to this, and to maybe stylize it a bit more, but I am happy with the current look.
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