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Street photographers photographing the homeless

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Photographing the homeless

Every city and town have homeless people. Sad that it is but that's just the new reality we all live in given rising costs and low affordability worldwide. They have fallen on hard times, are homeless with very little to no money, little clothing or protection from the elements. They are probably at their very lowest point in life. As a photographer, do you think it is ethical to photograph the homeless?

Exploiting poverty for your personal gain

As fellow human beings with far more favourable conditions to the homeless, instead of showing kindness toward these men & women a lot of photographers(particularly street photographers) exploit their situation discreetly. Some, of course, have a chat and offer help. But those are far and few between. The internet has millions of these exploitatory images. Even somewhat conscientious photographers don't bat an eyelid to this unethical etiquette.

If you are a street photographer and you shoot the helpless people living hand to mouth I have two questions for you:

  • are you that desperate for a shot that you couldn't do better than to rob a frame of the homeless man who has no place to go and no money to earn. Their helplessness, squalor and state of despair goad you to shoot without any moral dilemma?
  • are you are so lacking in faculty and courage that you cannot approach people and rather settle for the victims who are voiceless and timid. You shoot the meek to avoid confrontation?

Are you one of them? No, really, are you one of those photographers? You then go home,  process and post your photos letting the world know how terrific a photographer you are! In my opinion, if you are out on the streets having the urge to photography a homeless soul to further your portfolio - that's not really photography. The more fitting word is -- you lack respect for others, you are just another opportunist.

If however, you are photographing the homeless for a reason, there is a project you are working on, I do hope you approach them for permission and help them out with some money, food or shelter.

How is photographing the downtrodden to further your portfolio a moral thing to do? All you do is take from them their discomposure, their bashful state, their humility to gain more personal popularity in your photography.

  • What are you contributing to the world in doing so?
  • What are you contributing to these homeless people?

If you are a street photographer, you ought to know better than this.

Have I done it?

Sadly yes. I have probably done this two or three times and it didn't feel right and I do regret it.

I have an aversion to looking at other people's work who do this unashamed day after day. In Sydney alone, a number of photographers - wait! Scratch that… a big number of  STREET PHOTOGRAPHERS shoot the homeless to further their portfolio. This is a very common activity worldwide too.  This kind of exploitative photography is demeaning to everyone. And it speaks loads about you as a photographer. It embodies objectification.

The rule is simple, when in doubt, stop and ask a question in your head. Reverse the situation and ask yourself - would you be party to this? By all means, capture the truth but be gentle and respectful of the less fortunate. It is not that difficult to be kind to fellow human beings!