On the subject of invisibility.

As I have noted elsewhere, my long term project on Hamilton’s streets is trying to make the “invisible”, “visible”, to put a spotlight on those people who live or eke out an existence on the streets and whose very presence is so common as to render them invisible to the gaze of passers-by either by accident or design.

I am adding two photographs to this blog entry—one in colour by a photographer from the Hamilton Spectator and a black and white image by me, both of which share, in part, the same subject, a person in the images, as you will see.

The caption to the colour image was “Pedestrian walking in the blowing snow Tuesday morning”. Which begs the question, which person is referred to? The caption alludes to a single pedestrian. It seems to me that the viewer would be drawn to the person in the background who is demonstrably walking. The bloke with the sign, as anyone who actually looks at people in his situation will readily attest, is unlikely to be “walking” anywhere. Standing, most likely. What then is the effect of the image and the attendant caption? Ironically, the camera has drawn our attention to someone who, because of the depth of field, is out of focus, while the person in the foreground is sharply captured but rendered “invisible”.

Now, I and the Spectator’s photographer covered such the same ground that day. I came across the bloke in the picture later on I think. When I saw him on the other side of the road, he was fielding what seemed to me to be a stream of abuse from two blokes just ahead of me who were clearly also in the street community . They walked on, and I crossed over. He told me his name was Kiefer, and I asked if the other two had been giving him a hard time. He gave a rueful half-smile. “No”, he said, ‘one of them was my older brother”.

It was a miserable day and of course snow in the city provides local interest, but the real story to my mind was the fact that not only was a young homeless guy reduced to begging on the street, but that he was part of a family for whom the street is their home. How sad that the weather was the subject of the story, rather than people who had no shelter from it. And how ironic that a camera together with a caption can erase, to all intents and purposes, the larger significance of the image.

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