Yesterday, on one of the very few venues that I continue to post my photography, I received a comment that was perhaps well intentioned, but which I took as dire criticism. On a photo of a homeless man sleeping on a church’s steps (instead of just going inside or to one of the 3 homeless shelters nearby), a ‘retired’ photojournalist from Finland informed me that the U.S. has a huge homeless problem that other nations, such as Finland don’t have. I was advised to stop shooting street, and as my retirement hobby, to devote myself to being Lewis Hines, showing the homeless’ plight. I supposed, from the comment, I should delete my non-homeless photos. Instead the comment made me delete the photo of the man sleeping.
Reality check: The U.S. homeless population is around 554,000, around 0.17% of the total population. Of those, around 0.06% of the population lives on the street. Most panhandlers ARE NOT HOMELESS. In fact, street beggars in the U.S. have an average income of $30,000! So, yes, our HUGE homeless problem means that only around 99.83% of Americans have homes.
We don’t have a homeless problem. We have a substance-abuse and mental-health problem, which explains why most non-sheltered homeless (individuals) are in the plight they are. It’s not okay, but it’s also not really wholly preventable. Yes, too many people are poor. Millions are exploited. Some families are on the street (although I’ve only encountered one in my 42 years of street photography). But even if the entirety of the U.S. population on the street, no photographer has a moral obligation to spend their time shooting what some idealistic dickhead thinks is worthy.
I shoot the U.S., and other places, based solely on what I encounter. You won’t see tons of sad, homeless faces in my photography because 1) it’s cheap and exploitative, 2) homeless people live mostly in large cities, 3) I’m not a tourist; they only live in tourist areas, and 4) I don’t wanna.