When and where was this photo taken?
Outside the Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2013.
What was your thought process?
I think you have to be incredibly careful when you’re photographing someone who’s homeless for any kind of street photography. For a start, because it’s really a bad hoary old cliché and kind of a cheap way of ransacking some poor bastard’s soul for a bit of easy social commentary gravitas. The same way politicians don a high-vis jacket and go and hang out with the working man for about fifteen to twenty minutes on a building site just outside of Kettering.
Okay, I’m making this hard for myself, aren’t I. Okay, so but for all that there was something deeply charismatic about this man. For a start his spot was teeming with pigeons. Great choked clouds of them. And he was just kind of fascinatingly, unflinching and serene inside the airborne storm of infested wings. Like the old man and the sea. But with pigeons. There was also an unfathomable blackness in his eyes. Like he’s abstracted himself from life in some very real way.
How did you approach this photograph?
I wanted to capture his eyes without just going in for a closeup of his face. A lot of homeless have great rough hewn faces which lends itself to a lot of cheap and easy short hand photography. So I approached with a 35mm, a great street photography focal length and got a shot of him interacting with a young German tourist.
The fact that he is interacting with someone yet his eyes still remain darkly unknowable tells more of a story than a straight portrait shot. It shows the disconnection in his eyes. You could say that the pigeon above his head is a nice piece of serendipity. But a second before I got this shot there were three of them clattering around his head, and that would have been even better. But that’s street photography for you.