There was a car rally in the city that I figured might be worth a look. On my way through the city's quiet Sunday streets I cut down a one way to get down to the next main road. Sitting in a doorway, holding a Ribena bottle bong was a man who looked to be asleep. His eyes were closed anyway. I walked straight past him and stopped a few steps further on.
This is where things get complicated from an ethical perspective. Immediately I felt a strong urge to photograph this man in his present situation. As a photographer, when the hair stands up on the back of your neck, you are compelled to attempt to record what is in front of you. I have a general rule to shoot first and examine my ethics for doing so later. The world moves quickly and I have had far more regrets from not lifting my camera to my eye than by doing so.
What about his rights though? The rule of Australian law is clear that if someone is in a public place then it is not illegal to take their photograph. Where it gets more complicated in this situation is that this man was, at the time I encountered him, homeless. So he did not have the ability to go back to his private residence to live his private life there. He has to live his entire life in public. So what is considered a public space to most of us, could in fact be a private one for him.
I walked back a few steps and said hello. We ended up chatting for about half an hour about his life and mine. I recorded a few minutes of this conversation which is where the above quote comes from. Word for word. He was affected by substances as we talked but incredibly lucid and philosophical. Craig* told me he is sleeping rough right now. And that he looks out for the younger kids around the city streets who also have found themselves homeless. He talked a lot about love and how important it is.
Craig then said I should take a picture of him having a smoke. I was carrying an old large-format camera that morning which exposes one sheet of film at a time. There is a lot that can go wrong when photographing like this, hand-held and all, just trying to obtain something as simple as correct focus is a desperate proposition. Craig wanted me to take the picture when he was exhaling the smoke as he thought that would be most effective. We made an attempt, but something wasn't working properly and I missed the moment. I had the feeling that he thought he was dealing with a bloody amateur at that point.
As it turned out, I double exposed one sheet of film and to me this fortuitous accident provided the picture that described our meeting best of all.
*name has been changed
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the ethics, or lack of, in street photography.