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?