Fotolog featuring pictures of the homeless

posted by Jason Kottke Jan 22, 2004

Fotolog featuring pictures of the homeless.

Reader comments

Amanda SmithJan 22, 2004 at 11:53AM

These photos are exploitative not educational. Shameful.

MacDaraJan 22, 2004 at 12:31PM

I agree. This is basically Bumfights without the fighting. I'm sure he/she would have some petit bourgeois "artistic justification" for it, but that wouldn't wash with me. It's one thing capturing a fleeting moment for the sake of art, but making a dedicated project out of it is surely exploitative.

jkottkeJan 22, 2004 at 12:52PM

I'm not sure I see the exploitation. The people in the photos obviously consented to have their photos taken and from the photographer's comments, he appears to be friends (and even good friends) with some of the subjects. I see this as a respectful documentation of a segment of society that is ignored, misunderstood, and maligned by much of the rest of society.

JordanJan 22, 2004 at 2:10PM

I agree with J. I enjoy the descriptions as much as the pictures - this man is taking the time to broadcast stories that aren't usually heard.

rgJan 22, 2004 at 2:19PM

The best social photographs are mirrors, they tell you as much about the viewer as they do about the subject or photographer.

MacDaraJan 22, 2004 at 2:52PM

As I think about it more, I can see your point of view - it's highlighting an important issue, sure, and yes, it is showing the homeless as people, as individuals, not merely 'the homeless'. But what is it really doing to help? Or even, do the people in question want help? There's a fine line between respect and pity here, and personally I don't think altriusm is a motivation. But of course, that's just an off-the-top-of-my-head observation, and hardly a thesis.

AmandaJan 22, 2004 at 4:25PM

Jason, I have a moral problem with mentally ill and addicted persons "consenting" to have their photographs taken for a Web site.

Documentary photography is a powerful medium. There's no doubt in my mind that such a project could be carried out with sensitivity and professionalism. Professor Clark's photographs fail to establish the essential sensitivity or professionalism.

heatherJan 22, 2004 at 5:32PM

amanda, i'm curious how do you feel that professor clark is neither professional or sensitive?

AmandaJan 22, 2004 at 6:14PM

Professor Clark is not a journalist. According to his bio, he teaches "Computer Art and Drawing." Photographing the homeless is a, for a lack of a better word, hobby.

I have a very, very difficult time believing that most of his subjects can truly consent to having their photographs taken. These are very serious ethical and legal issues that cannot be taken lightly.

Bob Steele at the Poynter Institute has a list of responsibilites that photographers must be held accountable for. Just a few of these questions can be found here:


I'm certain that Prof. Clark has good intentions, however, good intentions are not enough to validate this kind of collection of photographs.

jkottkeJan 22, 2004 at 6:18PM

Yeah, I'm wondering that as well (and not in a "what the hell is your deal" way...I'm really curious). Is it the "quickie" weblog format, which many people see as a throw-away medium that trivializes the content at the expense of timeliness? Would you react differently if the work were presented in an art gallery or even online in another context? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

jkottkeJan 22, 2004 at 6:29PM

FYI, I posted that last comment before seeing Amanda's response.

AmandaJan 22, 2004 at 6:32PM

Two additional thought-provoking threads on photo.net concerning photographing the homeless:




Jason, yes, I think that I would feel differently if these photographs were in a gallery or as part of a specific article in Harper's or National Geographic or The New York Times.

nobodymuchJan 22, 2004 at 6:34PM

Bob Steele is not a photographer. According to his bio, he teaches "media leaders and coaches journalists." Writing about photographers is a, for a lack of a better word, hobby.

I have a very, very difficult time believing that most of his subjects can truly consent to having their photographs moralised. These are very serious photographic issues that cannot be taken lightly.

spygeekJan 22, 2004 at 10:38PM

At least one of the subjects (Billy) mentioned that he had seen the page when Clark ran into him and photographed him again. This makes me think that Clark was up-front about how he was going to use the pictures.

Contrast this with every photo taken at a party and posted on someone's web page without even a thought of asking the subjects for permission.

While it's true that mental illness can be a contributing factor to homelessness, I don't think we need to automatically assume that all homeless people are unable to make decisions for themselves.

StewartJan 23, 2004 at 1:15AM

S'funny how all you fat and lonely people -- since I know for a fact that if you are posting stuff on the internet, you must be fat and lonely -- sit around talking about the crazy addicts.

(Nicely done put, nobodymuch.)

(And Amanda: People with no legs have sex! There are lazy people in China! Not all jews are cheap!)

dennisJan 23, 2004 at 1:34AM

Is he profiting from the photos? Agree or disagree, he's succeeded in starting a dialogue about homelessness.

JoergJan 23, 2004 at 7:49AM

The homeless people are depicted with sensitivity and respect. He has obviously spent time with him; they recognize him on the streets; they know that the images are going up on the site.

And the comments that the Prof added were informative and totally non-judgemental.

I didn't even know that some of the homeless are ex-soldiers that have received medals for bravery !

This is hardly exploitation.

But I take the point that the Medium is the Message, and that an art gallery would give the images more weight. But these pictures stand perfectly well on their own as beautiful images.

AmandaJan 23, 2004 at 8:30AM

Thanks Stewart for your kind words. You're a true asset to Jason's blog.

I'm not right about oodles of things but I am right about this. It's unethical. Really.

heatherJan 23, 2004 at 9:29AM

so then, if professo clark were a professional photographer and these images appeared in some renouned publication, then it would be ok?

i don't buy that. that's like saying that only journalists can report on the news and webloggers can't. the internet is bringing down the walls giving people like professor clark a channel to share his work. so he chose fotolog? big deal. it doesn't detract at all from what he is accomplishing.

i don't think that the two links above reflect what's going on with professor clark. he's not snapping and running off, he's talking to them and there's a thread of what's happening to these people as he seems to photograph many over and over.

what i appreciate about these photographs is that professor clark is putting a face and voice to the homeless, creating a record of their lives that would otherwise never happen, showing us that they too are human with lives and stories.

TimmywahJan 26, 2004 at 2:07AM

how could these photos be less explotive? clark obviously sparks a conversation with these people and seems to take a sincere interest in them....it's not like some so called street photographers where the photographer turns the subject into a animal that is to be hunted with their telephoto lens.... i also disagree that you need to be a journalistic to create compelling work...in my book all it takes is heart and passion...sure a degree may teach you the ethical issues involved in such a journey, but that won't get you anywhere if can't connect with your subjects

beerzie boyFeb 13, 2004 at 4:20PM

I'm a amateur photographer living in a large city that has a lot of homeless people. Myself, I have decided not to take pictures of the homeless more as an aesthetic choice (unfortunately, I think they have become a bit of a cliche). Creating art is about selection and exclusion -- the elements you choose are part of the what you are trying to achieve in your art. It has always been my belief that there can be beauty and humanity in any being (or object) in the world; the homeless -- or the maimed, dying, or miserable -- these are a part of our world, too, just as sunsets and flowers are.

As far as mashuga goes, where's the exploitation? It's not as it he's selling homeless bubble gum cards.

beerzie boyFeb 13, 2004 at 4:26PM

I forgot...this attitude kills me:

> I think that I would feel differently if these photographs were in a gallery or as part of a specific article in Harper's or National Geographic or The New York Times.

Not to be rude, but that's absolute crap. Is it only "okay" for "professionals" to take pictures of (or write about) difficult subjects? Do you have to wait to be certified before can legitimately photograph these folks? Have a press pass? Hmmm.

A interesting discussion, however.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.