Friday, January 3, 2014

Georgia: Recording life on the streets of Perth as it happens

Allow me to introduce you to Georgia, who I met while working on the street in downtown Perth on New Years Day.
I had just made a photograph of another person, one I wouldn't normally ever make, but for some reason I was drawn to the man who, clearly down on his luck, was sleeping along the wall of an upmarket store, Just as I made the photo, a passerby yelled that I should get permission before photographing someone in the street. He added: "How would you like it if someone took your photo in that condition?".
Instantly I knew he was right. Not about the permission, but the second bit.  I very rarely if ever photograph people who are homeless or otherwise vulnerable. In fact, it's a strong rule I always follow (I plan to write about this subject in some depth soon).  But, what happened next, gave me the answer to why I'd been drawn to photograph that poor man as he slept.
"Don't listen to them. You have to take those photos." This voice reached me just as I was walking away thinking about what had just happened. I turned and came face to face with Georgia. She told me that she was writing what she saw on the street. She kind of implied that this was what she was meant to be doing, that "the guy upstairs" wanted her to make a record.
"I'm thinking of calling it Hell on Earth after all the things I've seen," she told me. We chatted for a while about the importance of bearing witness to life as it passes us by. Georgia went on to tell me that she just goes where, and does what, she feels she is meant to do. Like the time she took in a young woman with a small baby she found alone in the city sitting with bags of belongings, but with nowhere to go.
"I took her home, fed her and the baby. She stayed a while, then the Salvos found her a place to live." Georgia reckons that her God had put her in the right place at the right time to help.
So, what had Georgia meant when she shouted to me 'You have to take those photos"? I've been giving this a lot of thought the last couple of days. First, she was telling me that I have to bear witness. Of course for many of us in the arts, bearing witness is oftentimes the very reason we do what we do. I know it is for me. As I say, I hardly ever photograph homeless people; but on that day I did. I suppose you could say that I was bearing witness; I was acknowledging my brother human, while most if not all simply passed by without even a glance or thought, much less any kind of empathy.
But, and it's a big but for me, I have never felt adequate to the task of properly bearing witness for the more vulnerable people I encounter in the streets. Besides, way too many of those I like to call "so-called" street photographers (the ones who simply play at the genre guided by their egos and a "hunting" mentality), snap away at homeless people, at people down on their luck, because they are "easy targets". I despise this approach and steer away from it as much as I can.
So, why me? Why is it me who has to "take those photos"? Well this hasn't been so easy for me to answer despite my deep reflection. Then, literally five minutes ago as I took a "Facebook break" from writing this, I saw a short post shared on my timeline. The quote reads:
Sometimes the detour is the path.
Perhaps. At least one thing can be said: Taking the detour I did when I photographed the homeless man sleeping, led me to meeting Georgia, who is bearing witness, who is seeing life go by in all its shades and making a record of what she sees and hears. That's why I've called this portrait of her, Georgia, the Life Writer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome any comments, questions, suggestions. The floor is yours! Sharing is a huge part of my philosophy, so please, share your thoughts with us