The Art - Photography

Billie's Chair

For years we lived between the city's largest homeless shelter and its largest soup kitchen, so we were surrounded by a large number of homeless people. "Billie" was one of these individuals. He had once worked as a waiter at an upscale restaurant/bar in the area and became homeless at least partly due severe epilepsy. The landlord had befriended Billie, providing him a place to store his belongings and the cans he gathered, and he was granted access to the area back of the apartment building. The homeless shelter was stressful for Billie, and every day for several years he would arrive very early in the morning to take a couple of hours refuge in the back area on a yellow plastic lattice chair. He liked this time as it was quiet and he preferred solitude, refusing any offers of food, water or coffee, simply wanting to be left alone. His socializing was kept to the landlord, who occasionally paid him to do small chores. Eventually, Billie became ill, and after spending time in the hospital then in a half-way house, returned to the street as he felt the halfway house too restrictive. After we had been there several years, he disappeared altogether.

I never took any photos of Billie, just as I didn't take photos of the homeless, though they were up and down the sidewalks, some familiar faces around for years, and a number would spend the day across the street from the building. Going and coming meant seeing always dozens of homeless. I felt it important to not use their faces and hard times for photo opportunities. If I chronicled their homelessness, it would have been of no benefit to them and only exploitative. I was sometimes out photographing the area and I didn't want them discomfited or agitated by my camera, so I never turned it in their direction. Therefore, I only have one photo that I ever took of any of the homeless, that one not of any individuals but outside the shelter, though we were close neighbors for 13 years.

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