Asleep at the beach

Photographing the homeless is a gut-wrenching ordeal. There’s the question of should or shouldn’t. There’s the urge to tell the story despite the sadness you take from it. There’s the concern that when you have a shot you know you should take and don’t have time to ask permission the subject might become aware of you taking it. Then what? Will they be OK with it, and if not, how will they respond? I’ve never encountered a person that threatened me over my taking their photo, but many individuals in many different situations aside from photographing the down-on-their-luck have questioned what I’m doing and why. It’s become normal, almost. I more than half-expect someone to notice me or interrupt me whenever I’m taking a photo. I’m always considering my surroundings; it’s almost as important as taking the photo, honestly. Just like driving, I leave myself an exit or an out.

Last night I passed this bus stop from the opposite side of the street and stopped dead in my tracks. Often times with scouting a potential photo you notice a singular something and then find ways to put elements into the frame to enhance this something. Well, this didn’t require a single thought. It screamed out at me. A maintenance worker had stopped his truck between me and the sleeping man, so I had to make the decision to go around his truck and shoot from in the middle of the street in order to get this straight-on. It would leave me wide out in the open, and I’d also have to consider traffic. I’d have maybe 20 seconds to get it right. I set up the shot from behind the truck and leveled my tripod so that it would handle the grade of the street as well as possible. While waited for traffic to die down, I noticed the man was snoring. I’d likely not be seen. I darted around the parked truck, placed the tripod onto the pavement, tilted down the head to level, shot three exposures and left in the space of maybe 12 seconds. I hope he’s in a better situation tonight.
Asleep at the beach


4 Comments to “Asleep at the beach”

  1. Gut-werenching is right! And this is particularly sad and shocking because it almost looks like a black body bag. My heart breaks for those who have no place warm and love-filled to go. I think some times it is best the stories are told so that people like us who have more invested in camera equipment than they can dream about remember the harsh reality of how others live, and how great we have it. Then of course there is the flip-side of honoring the little bit of dignity they have left. There is always the question, was it by choice, or is it mental illness, or just being victims of circumstance. No matter the reason, very heart breaking and thought provoking. Thanks for sharing, in this man’s honor….

    • When you walk through Chicago at night you can see dozens of people like this. It’s a weird feeling taking these photos. Writing about it is equally challenging… thanks for receiving as you did.

  2. I know you have a different perspective since you are there seeing all the homeless and this is truly sad. However, when I first saw this image, it was the light and lightness that I saw. The figure seemed to be levitating! Extremely effective image and a true contrast to the reality here.

    • Well, yes, when I first noticed him sleeping there it was all about the levitation. In fact, it wasn’t until I was about to take the photo that I noticed the beach. It was one of those weird moments were everything lines up.

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