Artist Statement:  The Street People

This series is about people who live their lives wandering or camped on the streets of Los Angeles.  The series covers the six-year period between 2017 and now. 

Who Are The Street People?

The street people are dispossessed.  They have nothing.  Most are homeless, while others live in skid row flophouses or in institutional shelters.  All live primarily by their wits and do so meagerly, having few (if any) personal possessions.  All lack money, food, and needed medical care.  Many roam aimlessly, in search of scraps and handouts, gathering and scrounging whatever the streets and trash cans randomly afford.  

The street people include the mentally and physically ill, the drug addicted, the depressed and the dangerous.  Often, they are victims of crime.  And, they are almost always treated as outcasts, scorned, avoided and feared by the general population.  

Why Did I Start Making Images Of The Street People?

 I am eighty-two years old.  I was born, and have lived my entire life, in Los Angeles.  I have been making pictures in Los Angeles and elsewhere for over sixty years.

 My general approach is to randomly wander the streets of ungentrified, blighted, grimy, dilapidated, and chaotic urban environments, and to make photographs of whatever intrigues me.  My subjects are often ephemeral, here now, then quickly disappearing (sometimes within hours), transposed by new layers of weather, grime and graffiti.  In general, I try to capture “the beauty of ugliness,” as a Washington Post review of my 2000 Washington D.C. show once described.

 So, how did this photographic journey lead to The Street People project?  The answer:  Directly so.

 My photographic “beat” has always been populated by street people.  As I passed, I closely observed them and their interactions with the general population.  But, for years, I never dared to make images of these people.  I refrained because I felt that making photographs of the dispossessed could be viewed---legitimately so---as intrusive, opportunistic, exploitative and, yes, dangerous.  There were countless images to be made, but I didn’t dare even to try to make even a single one.

 At some point, however, I felt compelled to document what I was observing; I felt that what I was regularly seeing needed to be preserved, even if seen only by me.  I don’t know when that point came, but it came, sometime in 2017.  So, it was then (now seven years ago) that I started, with great reluctance and hesitation, to start photographing the street people, and I’ve never stopped.

 The Street People Project

 I initially tiptoed into the project, operating discreetly, at a distance.  As I proceeded, I slowly became more comfortable and I realized that making images at a distance was not optimal, that it would be better if I could make images more intimately.  

 Having observed that most passersby do all they can to avoid any type of engagement with the street people, I decided that, whenever possible, I would try to communicate and interact.  I would say, “Hi” and “What’s happening” and I would often get surprised, positive, welcoming responses.  Conversations would ensue and images were allowed.  I got to know some of the street people and became familiar with the places where they could regularly be found.  Many, many images followed and, when I encountered some of my subjects again, I would give them a print which they always welcomed, even trreasured.

My only purpose in pursuing this project is to document what I have regularly observed and to do so as honestly, respectfully and with as much photographic integrity as I could muster.  I do not intend "The Street People" project to be a documentary of homelessness in general, but rather simply a documentary of my personal encounters with those who live on the streets.  I will never sell any of the images. 

The LACMA Images

We are pleased that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) deemed that images from The Street People series are worthy of inclusion in its permanent collection.  These images are presented here in the LACMA sub-gallery of this collection.

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