One of the aspects of street photography I struggle with is the question of whether or not to speak to folks before photographing them. On one hand speaking to someone first means any picture I make afterwards is no longer candid, which changes it somewhat. But on the other hand, I’m often drawn towards particular people because I’m curious about their ‘story’ (we all have a story), and speaking to them before asking to take their portrait gives me an opportunity to learn their story.

Over the past couple of weeks I’d seen a chap several times, standing quietly at a busy intersection holding signs preaching peace and love. I was intrigued and so I drove to his intersection last Saturday and stopped and chatted to him for a while. This is some of Joe’s story.

Joe is a little over 50 - like me. Joe has kids he loves and worries about - like me. Joe has had failed relationships with partners and family - like me. And Joe has made some dumb decisions in his life - like me (and you!). Unfortunately for Joe, some of his dumb decisions involved drugs and as a consequence he now carries his life in a couple of bags and sleeps in an alley in a broken down van. 

Joe’s unsure of his future. He’s in a methadone program and is on a (long) waiting list for public housing. Maybe that’ll work out for him. Maybe not. Maybe he’ll get back together with his partner and reconnect with his kids. Maybe not. In the meantime, he’ll continue to stand on street corners with his signs. If you happen to see him, wind your window down. Say g’day.


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