I am from this city, in a matter of speaking. I was born 5 miles north of Los Angeles, and through previous careers had driven through some of the slums and seen the streets. I recall a time when I first passed through skid row, it was during the day. I remember feeling disgust, the streets were lined with trash, tents, there were people sitting on the curbs looking at the motorized passerby with blank stares. I felt undeserving of the cheap car I was driving, I felt like I was being judged for being born under parents who happened to live in a nice quiet community, where education was available, and where I was never without the conveniences that seemed to be a fixture in my life. I will always have that subtle guilt for being fortunate for these things, even though I never had control of my initial circumstances. But it’s also a bias of mine that I see these people as living unhappy, desolate lives. For a live without the conveniences I enjoy must be lesser, right? No, of course not, in truth I am envious of struggle. I may no truly understand what any of their lives are really about, but convenience is something they fight for as opposed to something that’s expected as it is in my world. One path breeds the unremarkable, and the other anguish.
I can’t help my curiosity. Tonight I crossed a threshold that I had not previously with my photography. I wanted to be part of the street, as opposed to a traveling viewer. I had an oversized hoodie with a jacket over top, I dressed purposefully disheveled, I wanted to look as if I were in fact homeless myself. I was so out of my element that I scarcely brought my camera free from the cover of my jacket, but being there alone was such an experience in it of itself. I walked through many alleys, met a few men. One told me not to go down a street, he said “that’s a dark street, and I ain’t talkin about the lack of light. Not that I have anything against em, but you don’t wanna stand out.” He didn’t realize this was an alley I had just come from. I sat on the street a while with him.
“Everybody down here has a story, mine was about a girl.”
– what happened?
“You can guess what happened…”
-so, you were so bent out of shape that you didn’t want to be in the same city as her? (he was from some midwestern place)
“I didn’t even want to be in the same fucking state as her.”
Echoes of soft conversation came from afar, it was cool, air still. I walk, looking down at the street itself, speckled with wrappers and cigarette butts. I never connected eyes with any passerby, not that I didn’t try at first to at least exchange a soft smile as a gesture of friendliness, but nobody would ever look up from the ground. This is with the exception of a woman who was leaving work in a business casual outfit, who nervously returned gaze. How very strange that by the very nature of walking alone, over sized and disheveled outfit, that I might be someone to intimidate anyone.
This was an odd experience, it makes me question my interest in street photography. At what point are you poking your nose too far into the personal lives of others, obviously unwelcome, many of them obviously not proud.