Monday, April 02, 2007
Wrong turn under a bridge to nowhere
San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click to enlarge]
While walking through downtown San Francisco, I came across an elevated expressway that was midway through the process of deconstruction. The few sections that remained simply ended unceremoniously, awaiting their inevitable fate.
A homeless man lived underneath the last section. He alternated between lying under his plastic sheeting and checking his worldly possessions in his nearby shopping cart. I wasn't looking to capture him, but as I scoped the desolate-looking bridge, I noticed the lost soul living beneath it and thought that perhaps the more important message lay in the man and not the concrete that surrounded him.
I hesitated to take the shot at first. What right did I have to invade this man's privacy, after all? As I debated myself over the moral issues related to this one photo, he turned away from his cart and noticed me standing there. He immediately headed back to his sheeting and took shelter. I guess I had my answer.
But as I meandered elsewhere on the site, he kept eyeing me from beneath the plastic. I began to feel a little bolder, figuring that my taking his picture and sharing it might just prompt the kind of thought that could, in a fit of rose-colored hope, prevent others from meeting his sad and solitary fate. The greater good, I decided, lay in pushing his buttons. I further justified it by figuring someone in a public place has little expectation of privacy - yet another tragic consequence of a life few of us could ever begin to comprehend.
I walked away and gave him a few minutes to settle into his sheeting, then turned quickly and squeezed off three shots in rapid sequence before leaving for good. He never knew I took the picture, never knew that strangers around the world would soon get a brief glimpse into his anonymous life, would soon mull over the sad tragedy of one moment in a homeless man's day.
For a man whose every waking moment seems focused on holding onto what's his and maintaining a tenuous hold on a disappearing patch of concrete, it struck me as ironic that his image would be discussed and debated in an online world that he likely knows nothing about. Yet another tragedy of today's lost souls.
Your turn: What's the greater good in my having taken this image?