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December 11, 2012

How Do You Photograph Homeless for Newswire So People Actually Notice?

Homeless news photos 2 women Brendan Sullivan

If you’ve been following BagNews, you know we’ve been making noise, especially lately, about the absence of the poor and homeless from visual media and the newswires (1, 2). When the opportunity comes along, though, the question is how to engage the subject in a way that complies with the demand for increasingly stylish, smart and also eye-catching imagery?

Here are three different moves in a photo package from Getty by photographer Justin Sullivan illustrating the factoid that: “Homeless Numbers Remain Unchanged From 2011 Despite Increase In Funding.” The photos were taken in and around San Francisco’s Union Square.

1. Sex sells

So do portrayals of two Americas aimed at the gut (and ostentatious wealth). This shot covers both bases. With a woman in the foreground, by the way, you also have a lot more to consider. For example, you get the hint of connection with the ad image just overhead (as if the stooped woman might have had some glamour in her life).

Homeless Sullivan reading paper

2. Defy knee-jerk stereotypes

Sullivan’s photo is noteworthy for juxtaposing the guy sleeping with the other person reading the paper. Challenging visions of alcoholism, mental illness, aggravated vagrancy, the other figure portrays the homeless more like you and me.

Homeless man O2 Sullivan Getty

3. Tie in other issues

This photo goes for more complexity, as in:  if we don’t do something about healthcare, or mortgage foreclosures, this could be your fate.

(10am PST – name correction — wrong Sullivan.)

(photos: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images caption 1: A homeless woman carries bags as she walks by a jewelry store on December 10, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Despite efforts from the Federal Government and local officials to provide more shelters and beds for homeless people, the number of people living on the streets remained unchanged from January 2011 to January 2012. The number of homeless families increased while the number of veterans on the street decreased.. caption 2: A homeless man sleeps in the park on December 10, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Despite efforts from the Federal Government and local officials to provide more shelters and beds for homeless people, the number of people living on the streets remained unchanged from January 2011 to January 2012. The number of homeless families increased while the number of veterans on the street decreased.. caption 3: A homeless man begs for change on December 10, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Despite efforts from the Federal Government and local officials to provide more shelters and beds for homeless people, the number of people living on the streets remained unchanged from January 2011 to January 2012. The number of homeless families increased while the number of veterans on the street decreased.)

  • bks3bks

    Homeless people are, to a first approximation, more in need of psychological help than of monetary help.

    –bks

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Weldon-Berger/1075193081 Weldon Berger

      I can’t speak for everybody who was or is homeless, but during the years I spent outside or in shelters, between 2002 – 2009, what I really needed was a place to live. And some money. Not surprisingly, medical folk find that providing services to people is a lot easier when the people have homes.

  • Not Brendan Sullivan

    Hard to take anyone’s critique of photos seriously when you can’t even get the photographer’s name correct.

  • Scout Tufankjian

    Michael – these pictures are by Justin Sullivan, not Brendan.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Thanks for the correction. …I imagine it’s not the first time anyone, even at Getty, has mixed them up.

  • bystander

    Oh. god. The third photo really hits home for me.

    When I first started reading blogs and commenting in the threads it was in two blogs where the writers were both writing from the LA area. There was this one individual who would comment who was so erudite. Smart, funny, well read… a history savant, and particularly, military history. Every time I pick up a book by Linda Fairstein and encounter Cooper’s whip-smart sidekick Mike, I think of Richard. And, one day Richard’s absence from the threads became a week, then a month, and we thread denizens began to worry. He made a couple of brief appearances before he admitted that he’d lost his home, was living in his car until it was towed, and was finally commenting from the public library because he’d been living on the street. People rallied, raised money, and one of the blog hosts worked hard to get him social services, medication for a chronic medical condition that was spiraling out of control, and a place to live. Before all of that could be worked out – he died of congestive heart failure.

    For all the years I, personally, worked with various homeless populations, nothing did more to disabuse me of any vestige of stereotypical thinking about the homeless than Richard did. It could be any of us, at any time, after a particularly bad run of luck.

    The gentleman in that third photo now has “name.” As I imagine it, and give the little information I had, his name could easily be “Richard.”

  • Scarabus

    In what I see as bitter irony, the first photo reminds me of Margaret Bourke-White’s famous photo of the Louisville flood.

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