For this documentary photo journalistic essay project I decided to document the life and hardships faced by those who live in great poverty in our City. It was such a shock to me, once I finally decided on a plan of action, to witness first-hand how some people have to live on a daily basis. I know that most of us see stories of poverty on the news and in the newspapers and we are almost immune to the problem. We stare and sometimes comment, but contribute very little to those less fortunate than ourselves. There are people starving all over the globe and a lot of third world countries depend on the resources of organisations like the UN and other known corporations.
It is quite sobering be up close and personal taking pictures of an individual that is homeless and living on the streets. One of the first things you notice is their skin. I noticed that it is weathered from the sun and, in many cases alcohol abuse. A lot of homeless people resort to alcohol as a means to stay warm during cold nights. Alcohol abuse is also a means of escape from the harsh reality of their lives.
Another thing that I noticed was the smell of the people I documented. As they do not having access to running water, the chance to shower, bath or to clean themselves, they all had very distinctive smells!
During this project I managed to shoot 7 different subjects and in each case they were very willing and open in allowing me to take pictures of them. I think the prospect of having someone to talk to and the idea of venting all that is wrong in the world spurred them on. In each case the issue of my giving them some food or money to help them out was raised. Where I could I tried to give them some food to assist them.
I noticed that all seven of these homeless men and women, despite not having any money to their name or a place to live, seemed happy and content. It struck me that because they owned nothing… also meant there was little to worry or care about.
At the very beginning of this project we watched the documentary film called WAR PHOTOGRAPHER, which is about the famous and controversial photographic journalist James Nachtwey. The film definitely inspired me a great deal; he has travelled all over the Globe from places like Iran, Indonesia to refugee camps in Ghana and even to South Africa during the Apartheid era.
In this project I wanted to capture the same mood, however there is not a war going on outside my window. I love how Nachtwey captured the emotions of the people he was photographing. You can tell the pain they were feeling and understand the turmoil that they lived in through in Nachtwey’s photography.
However this did not distress me, living in the place we there is great poverty and distress all around. If you look carefully you will be surprised what some people have to resort to just to stay alive.
The first group of homeless people I documented live under bridges in Rondebosch. They have set up different spaces for each person and have blankets and other items stored in boxes, packets and even shopping trollies. They find it safer to live with others as their stuff is more protected and this gives them peace of mind while they sleep. I suppose the companionship is also important although a lot of them fight and get into physical brawls.
The second lady and man I found were living in a park in Rosebank next to the train station. They did not seem to have much but I did see a spot where a fire had been made to cook food and for warmth at night. There were others that I came across while driving around and some would come up to me begging. The last man I found was sitting on a wall just under a UCT sign. His name was Jerome and he had the most amazing smile and white hair. He was enjoying a lunch of bread and chicken with an orange juice that someone had given him. He was really friendly and energetic and chatted to me all through the shoot. He loved chatting to me and I could see he was sad when I told him I had to leave as he was enjoying the company.
In conclusion, it was quite a reality check for me to shoot a documentary Journalistic Photo essay on this subject. I see people like this every day but have never taken the time to learn their names let alone have a conversation with them and find out their story. I found it quite sobering to go from shooting rich suburban kids, with lots of disposable income, to something that is quite literally the complete opposite where every day is a struggle. I hope to carry on capturing more images that relate to the issue of poverty and build up a body of work that one day could be exhibited.