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May 30, 2014

Looking at (People Looking at) Andres Serrano’s Homeless Portraits

photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Jeremy Connolly, born and raised in New York but now a resident of York, England, pauses to view photographer Andres Seerrano's portraits of the homeless displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Connnolly pointed out, "It's frightful. We spend literally billions on elections, but we don't spend money on people."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Jeremy Connolly, born and raised in New York but now a resident of York, England, pauses to view photographer Andres Seerrano's portraits of the homeless displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Connnolly pointed out, "It's frightful. We spend literally billions on elections, but we don't spend money on people."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: New Yorker Andi Porzio looks at Andres Serrano's photographs of homeless people displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Best known for his controversial image of a crucifix dunked in his own urine, Serrano's portraits put a very public face on New York City’s skyrocketing homeless population. The pictures appear in some of the very locations that his unassuming subjects often populate, the subway, pay phones, and bus stops.
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: New Yorker Andi Porzio looks at Andres Serrano's photographs of homeless people displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Best known for his controversial image of a crucifix dunked in his own urine, Serrano's portraits put a very public face on New York City’s skyrocketing homeless population. The pictures appear in some of the very locations that his unassuming subjects often populate, the subway, pay phones, and bus stops.
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Andrene Simuel glances at some of Andres Serrano's portraits of homeless people displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Of the underground exhibit, Simeul said," It's deep. You feel it."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Andrene Simuel glances at some of Andres Serrano's portraits of homeless people displayed at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Of the underground exhibit, Simeul said," It's deep. You feel it."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Amanda Lachman of New York looks at portraits of the homeless by photographer Andres Serrano displayed on the walls of the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Lachman said, "They really caught my eye. They're really powerful images that show people what life can really be like, and that these people need help."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: Amanda Lachman of New York looks at portraits of the homeless by photographer Andres Serrano displayed on the walls of the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Lachman said, "They really caught my eye. They're really powerful images that show people what life can really be like, and that these people need help."
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: New Yorker Vince Verdi walks past a display of photographs of homeless people displayed below ground at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Serrano's images of the city’s marginalized residents also are plastered inside 50 phone booths and bus stop shelters around Manhattan. “Resident of New York” is Serrano’s first public art project, and it runs through June 15.
photo: Kathy Willens/AP. caption: New Yorker Vince Verdi walks past a display of photographs of homeless people displayed below ground at the West 4th Street subway station in New York, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Serrano's images of the city’s marginalized residents also are plastered inside 50 phone booths and bus stop shelters around Manhattan. “Resident of New York” is Serrano’s first public art project, and it runs through June 15.
photo: An Rong Xu for TIME. caption: Artist Andres Serrano's photographic installation, Residents of New York, at the West 4th Street subway station in New York City.  Read more: Homeless in New York: A Public Art Project Goes Underground - LightBox http://lightbox.time.com/2014/05/27/residents-of-new-york/#ixzz33BJzcHNz
photo: An Rong Xu for TIME. caption: Artist Andres Serrano's photographic installation, Residents of New York, at the West 4th Street subway station in New York City. Read more: Homeless in New York: A Public Art Project Goes Underground - LightBox http://lightbox.time.com/2014/05/27/residents-of-new-york/#ixzz33BJzcHNz
photo: An Rong Xu for TIME. caption: Artist Andres Serrano's photographic installation, Residents of New York, at the West 4th Street subway station in New York City.  Read more: Homeless in New York: A Public Art Project Goes Underground - LightBox http://lightbox.time.com/2014/05/27/residents-of-new-york/#ixzz33BJzcHNz
photo: An Rong Xu for TIME. caption: Artist Andres Serrano's photographic installation, Residents of New York, at the West 4th Street subway station in New York City. Read more: Homeless in New York: A Public Art Project Goes Underground - LightBox http://lightbox.time.com/2014/05/27/residents-of-new-york/#ixzz33BJzcHNz
photo: Rich Hackman/<a href="https://twitter.com/richhackman/status/469263463517536256" target="_blank">Twitter</a> via the series hashtag #<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ResidentsofNewYork?src=hash" target="_blank">ResidentsOfNewYork</a> caption: West 4 subway station: a sole observer stops to ponder the meaning of the portaits
photo: Rich Hackman/Twitter via the series hashtag #ResidentsOfNewYork caption: West 4 subway station: a sole observer stops to ponder the meaning of the portaits

Do you worry that people will miss the photographs in the subway since New Yorkers are so used to tuning out anything on a billboard?

I feel like, first of all, they’re—once you walk down those corridors in the subway you can’t escape it. And once you look at one and you realize it’s not an ad and you engage with the person, I think it’s interesting enough if you have the time to be able to say, hey, let’s see what else is down here. Hopefully these photographs are engaging enough that they draw you in.

– from article and interview: Andres Serrano Wants New Yorkers To Stop Ignoring the Homeless (ArtNet News)

Certainly, there is are sizable literatures dealing with concerned photography, the style of concerned photography, the display of concerned photography and the impact of concerned photography. Likewise, the internet and the “photosphere” have only accelerated access to current as well as historical concerned photography.  Along these lines, I’m certainly interested in Andres Serrano’s portraits of NY’s homeless, as well as the impact of publishing them in public, particularly in subway stations. As a news photo critic, however, what I’m also interested in is how the media — and you and I, by extension — look at  these photos, , as powerful as they are in their size and in most cases, their intense directed gaze. More specifically, since the news photo coverage seems to be absorbed by the consumption of the photos, I’m interested in how we look at how we look at these provocative photos. Or even more specifically — and I hope this doesn’t sound too much like the equivalent of opening a set of nested Russian wooden dolls — I’m interested in how the media chooses to look at how we look at these photos.

The first five of these photos are from the AP. The captions by photographer Kathy Willens, by the way, lend more information. If the woman in #2 is quite engaged, it’s hard to know if we’re looking at a visceral connection or a more defensive reaction, perhaps to intellectualize. #3 is compelling for the black woman looking at the black woman, her attention very engaged. It seems an effective photo for inviting innumerable reactions along the lines of race, gender and identity. #5 is one of those smartly ambiguous photos that makes it difficult to tell if this man is engaged or avoidant. (Of course, a larger study would not only deal with looking versus not looking, but strategies of both. I’m also wondering what you think of #6 and 7, the two images commissioned for this TIME Lightbox post. If 6 seems either brutally honest or overly cynical, whichever way you choose to look at it,  for the people rushing by. #7 is interesting for what clearly looks like the upscale dad and son, as if to bring NY’s affluence and extreme economic gap into the equation. And yes, it’s heartening that the son seems interested. #8, a photo I found on Twitter under the project’s hashtag (#ResidentsOfNewYork),  is interesting for at least three reasons: to better appreciate the venue, for the better perspective of engagement and obliviousness, and for the contrast to the media shots.

If this is just a tiny sample, a powerful effect of these photos — and I imagine, the installation itself — is to pique our curiosity as to how, and how much, people do or don’t engage with the imagery.

This project is supported by the non-profit organization More Art, dedicated to producing meaningful public art in NY City.

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