One Photograph, Conflicting Perspectives

Homeless Man
PHOTO: Darren Calabrese / National Post

If you’re living anywhere in the colder parts of North America, chances are you’re like me today – wearing two pairs of pants, two shirts and a hoodie and only leaving your house when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s THAT cold. With Canadian temperatures dipping leaps and bounds below freezing point with wind-chill, most of the country is under extreme weather warnings and advisories.

The National Post published this story about the cold conditions the nation is facing and the precautions we should be taking. The story was accompanied by a photograph of a homeless man dusted in snow, asleep on the sidewalk and it stirred many thoughts in my mind.

I understand the intention of the image completely, but something about the fact that someone saw this man and photographed him irks me enough to debate its necessity.

The first thought I have is that of course, the photo drives home an important message. There are people suffering on our streets and this serves as a stirring reminder that winter is cruelest to those without homes. The footprints that trace where people have stepped around him and the people walking in the background paint a picture of the unfortunate reality that people ignore what makes them uncomfortable. In my mind this is no doubt an issue of equality that we should all be working to correct. The image tells a complete story in itself and I can see why the photographer would snap it.

On the other hand I can’t help but feel that the photographer should have sought some kind of help for the man and used that to create an even more interesting story, if not an informative one. Most areas of the country are facing frostbite warnings and in some cases, risk of hypothermia, so I just can’t imagine myself stopping to photograph this scene while for all I know he could need medical attention and at the very least, shelter. To me it seems ironic that in a story about keeping safe from the cold a photographer would pause to capture the image of someone who is highly at risk, instead of immediately getting them care.

I’m currently studying journalism and as such I’ve taken an entire course dedicated to the ethics and laws that rule a journalist’s life and work. For every debate it came down to necessity vs. exploitation to encourage more people to view your pages and pick up your paper. With a simple story about the weather this image felt out of place, especially because the story has only one line about homelessness and not in an informative “this is how to help,” way, but instead says “under such conditions, the city focuses on helping homeless people off the streets.”

If there’s one thing this photo demonstrates, it’s that the city isn’t doing a very good job.

What do you think? Would you have taken this shot at all, let alone to go with a basic story about cold temperatures? Is it the media/photographer’s job to do something or just to tell the story in hopes of encouraging other people?

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5 Responses to “One Photograph, Conflicting Perspectives”

  1. Jeff January 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    No harm came to the guy. It’s not like he was hit by a subway mid-flash!

    Aren’t we talking about the story about this homeless man?

    Bravo to the photographer.


  2. DJEB January 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Oh wait, is “I’m a photographer” now a pass for people who want to violate all manners of human decency? If so, I’ll remember that. Recklessly endangering lives by going 120 km/h over the speed limit in a school zone? “It’s OK officer. I’m a photographer.” Wife needs to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, but I want to sleep? “Sorry honey, I’m a photographer.” Christmas with the family? “Oh, Thanks for the gifts. I didn’t get you guys anything thought. Can’t interfere with you, you see. I’m a photographer.”

    Contact the spirit of Kevin Carter and ask him about it.

  3. Jayson January 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Take the shot. I feel photographers have a role to play presenting things in real life scenarios. Then get up and get the guy a coffee or to the shelter. If it involves a life and death situation then personal morals come into play. If a photographer is in reach of a person to save their life a la New York subway incident, forget the camera, get your arm out and pull the guy out best you can. If the photographer is out side being physically able to help, then take the shots for investigators to piece together what happened.

  4. Phil Lowe January 28, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Why assume that the photographer didn’t offer some kind of assistance after he took the shot?

  5. Peter Witruk January 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    This is a fantastic shot! It represents humanity on so many levels good and bad. As much as we have people sleeping on the streets in the worst conditions, these people choose thenstreetsmin favour of shelters due to they don’t like the rules in the shelters they have to abide by and in some cases the other people that also use the shelter there is conflict between them. “Street people” are incredibly territorial and there arises conflict that some would rather just avoid. Even though these unfortunate souls sleep on the street in adverse conditions the city (at least ours does) has many non- for-profit agencies that actively patrol looking for people in distress,handing out warm beverages and soup to comfort them until the city wakes up to hustle and bustle in the day so they can find somewhere public and warm to relax in. I also know that our local police force on extreme weather days will “arrest” and “detain” some street dwellers on misdemeanour charges that will be thrown out of court to give the worse of somewhere warm to hunker down until the morning plus feed them. Society has learned to put there blinders on when it comes to the homeless and this shot with the foot prints around the person sleeping in the street is a perfect example of representing what society has become. Is it good? Probably not ,but seeing as 90% of these people have come out of an abuse or mental health issue our health care system is not ready or able to take on and treat everyone that is on the street. Thanks to non-profit organizations they keep a small balance to the health care system and give these people somewhere to turn to in desperate circumstances.