Wick Communications

A dignified portrait

In Photography on 10 Feb 2011 at 1:07 pm

Sometimes, in the heat of deadline, I am a bit ham-fisted when it comes to cutlines. I was less than thoughtful recently with a cutline on a photo concerning homelessness in our area.

The photo was wonderful. Half Moon Bay Review photographer Lars Howlett went out with a volunteer, a politician and a cop on a regular count of area homeless. The count is used in applications for federal aid and for planning services in the county. Lars returned with several great shots, including the one you see above.

Lars was careful to find an angle that added humanity to the subject matter.  There was no one around, but it appeared to be a makeshift living room. He created an image that framed the belongings against the graffiti you see in the shot. Lars says it was his goal to bring a sense of dignity to the camp.

Unfortunately, here is the cutline I wrote:

Sofas and graffiti litter the area under a bridge in Half Moon Bay. It’s evidence of a homeless encampment near Pilarcitos Creek…

Lars doesn’t think “litter” is the appropriate verb when referring to someone’s belongings. And I think he is absolutely right, in hindsight. Lars gently reminded me that it’s always important to remember that all people deserve dignity and that the language we use is important.

Lars writes a regular column in our monthly magazine. For March, he writes in part:

If possible, a conversation will almost always help to deepen the understanding of a subject, especially the homeless where assumptions and stereotypes are easily made. And in all cases, even where talking is not possible, I strive to create photos that tell stories with deeper compassion and meaning.

Lars also teaches at the San Francisco Academy of Art. He says he tells his students that protests and homelessness create powerful images, but that both subjects lend themselves to cliché if the photographer isn’t careful. He says he always strives to show us what is unique about the protest or person at hand and not to present a preconceived notion.

As usual, Lars is entirely correct. The same is true for reporters and editors. We all do well when we remember the people we focus our collective lens upon are, in fact, people – regardless of the situation.




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