|Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Gardens Point, Brisbane, Queensland [click to enlarge]|
The homeless are easy targets for photographers. They can be found in every large city, they are out of the ordinary and are in contrast with most of the other people we might photograph.
In the early 70's I worked in the Midwest Regional Office of the Veterans' Administration in Chicago, then next door to the VA's West Side Hospital. There I regularly came into contact with the homeless. What became immediately clear was that our differences were merely accidents of circumstances.
So, yes, they are in public places, and we have a legal right to photograph them as we please. But they are us — fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters — in more difficult circumstances.
We must be aware of the difference in power. The homeless know they can't make a fuss. They know that in any dispute they will come out the worse for it. We cannot exploit them.
Photographers who have done amazing work with the homeless; work and photographs that show compassion without condescension include Steve Huff (see his homeless project) and Michael O'Brien (see the Kirk Tuck video about O'Brien's book/project "Hard Ground").
If you look carefully at the photo above, you'll notice that the man on the bench is very much awake. When I was passing, he turned and noticed me. I asked him if I could take his picture. He kindly agreed.