Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.
I’ve been thinking this photograph all week since taking it on the 24th. It is not the usual Invisible Ones portrait style that I have come to depend on. Finally I decided that the compelling story along with the image made it part of the series. I hope you agree.
I first saw Jane sitting outside Union Station. She was chain smoking cigarette butts that she had collected and passively panhandling with no success. As usual I stopped to talk, learning her name and that she had been living on the streets this time for about one year but has been homeless on and off for more than ten years. She attributes most of her problems to drugs, alcohol and “an emotional condition.” She also has a congenitial facial deformity that causes her a great deal of embarrassment, making panhandling all the more difficult. Jane would not allow me to photograph her because of her face. I gave her a food voucher anyway and went on my way. Some time later I walked by her location again and she motioned me over saying she felt bad that I had given her something and got nothing in return. She said that she hadn’t changed her mind entirely about the photo but agreed to let me take it from a distance and show it to her for approval. My 35mm prime wasn’t exactly the lens of choice but it was all I had. Luckily I was able to frame a passerby who appears oblivious to Jane sitting just inches away. As you can see, Jane also took the added precaution of shielding her face, not from the woman passerby but from me the photographer. She approved of the photo and wished me well.
For me this photo may be more powerful than any of the portraits in this series as it captures the invisibility of the homeless in real time. The story is poignant but the image says it all.