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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life in High Contrast

Homeless on the Sidewalk
Photo by myself today on Sixth Avenue and 57th Street.

A homeless woman was sleeping with a pillow and bedsheet in the middle of the day. The area is upscale and highly trafficked.


Today I went with a coworker to an apartment renovation she's wrapping up on Park Avenue.

It was really, really nice. There were the usual gorgeous details: custom furniture, expensive hardware, plaster ceilings and walls hand-painted by dedicated craftsmen. All the outlet covers and light switch covers were painted to match the walls, so they were barely noticeable. Heavy, silk taffeta curtains hung at each window.

It was not the interiors that wowed me, but the art. I've never seen so many Picasso paintings and drawings. There was an enormous Matisse in the Living Room that was about six feet high and fifteen feet long. It hung above the sofa in a spare, antiqued gold frame.

I've seen nice apartments with artwork, but this has to be the nicest one yet. The couple who live there are middle aged and successful. That both husband and wife came from established families did not hurt.

Recently, I've noticed many more homeless folks on the streets, subway stations and sidewalks. Perhaps it's a sign of the times, or perhaps I've become more observant, now that I take photographs.

I took today's photo while in a cab going to the ritzy apartment. It was around noon. The bouncer at Jekyll and Hyde, a few doors down, was pacing the sidewalk in costume. Tourists were casually window shopping. Taxis like mine were idling, waiting for the light to change.

Times are tough right now. I think everyone is feeling it, except for the very few, who live amongst the Picassos. No matter what the economy, it seems like these select folks remain untouched.

I'll leave off on a positive note. Mark and I are planning on doing some community work in the near future. He suggested a soup kitchen or an elder care situation. I agreed. I'd love to be more in touch with what's going on with people, rather than lock myself away in a protected tower.

It's all too easy to shelter yourself from reality.

Related posts: Signs of Hope, Come and Get It, Castaways and Filthy Rich.


Reluctant Blogger said...

oh really, wow that is amazing of you, Kitty. You have such a busy life as it is.

But yes, there are massive contrasts in life - the one you cite is enormous, but we see slightly less pronounced ones all the time.

My son asked a friend the other day why he hadn't got a bike and his friend said it had been stolen a few months previously. My son said to me later: "Why didn't his mum get him a new one?" he had no idea that some people simply can't afford to do that. Not that we are rich or anything - but I suppose we are relatively affluent.

I'll be interested to hear about it all.

Kitty said...

Thanks RB
We have the best intentions but as you say, time is limited and it's a huge commodity. I think those who contribute a few hours each week to soup kitchens and the like are extremely generous.

It's too easy to take things for granted, especially in the cities. Here, you just see people dining out, shopping and having a blast. Many of them are tourists, enjoying their time off. Easy to think that it's just life as usual.

Kelly said...

Extremely well done, Kitty. The photo and the text that accompanied it were perfect together.

fishwithoutbicycle said...

I love this photo Kitty. If love is the right word. It strikes a chord with me and like yourself I've been noticing more homeless people on the streets, especially women!! I should follow your lead and volunteer.

BrianC said...

One of the reasons you're seeing more homeless on the streets is that many smaller shelters in the city close their doors at the end of May. These are typically places run out of churches and similar spaces, and rely entirely on volunteers for staffing. They receive help from groups like the Partnership for the Homeless and even the city, which provides fresh towels and linens our Friday/Saturday shelter. We house about 16 people each week . . . but the shelter will close at the end of the month and will not reopen until mid-September.

Abraham Lincoln said...

Absolutely stunning. Only in America.

Something different from me
Better Blog Writing

Olivier said...

une autre photo de SDF à NYC sur le DP de Larchmont. Beau et triste b&w.

another photo of homeless in NYC on the DP of Larchmont. Beautiful and sad b&w.

babooshka said...

I'd like to say Abe's right, only in America but not anymore. This would be an too a familiar site in parts of the UK now. It's astonishing photography, but desperately sad. This is social docu. photography of the finest.

Tammy said...

What a powerful photo Kitty!

ken mac said...

maybe you invite that lady to live in the renovated tower...

Ming the Merciless said...

Every time I see homeless people, my heart skips a beat because I can so easily see myself being one of them if anything goes wrong in my life. I mean, the difference between us and them is only a few bad turns away -- shitty luck, mental illness, drug addiction, etc.

Kitty said...

Thanks Kelly!

Yes, Fish. I didn't notice them in such numbers in other years. The reason must be Brian's comment, below. It's pretty terrible these days.

Hi Brian
That's incredible. I'll have to learn more about it through you. I had no idea. It makes sense, I guess, with the change of weather, however you have to wonder, how are these people supposed to get better?

From the NPR episode I'd heard about the homeless violinist in LA I heard that most homeless people in shelters were only homeless for a brief time - they were laid off or going through something in their lives. It was enlightening.

Thanks Mr. Lincoln. Crazy but I agree. In wartorn countries you might see dead people on the street, but here, you see sleeping homeless people.

Thanks, Olivier for the link. The Larchmont photo is striking.

Thanks Babooshka dear. I wish it were not the case in both our countries.

Thanks Tammy!

Hi Ken
lol. It's striking how much building is going on and how many are homeless. Really sad.

Hi Ming
I so agree. Also it has to do with your family, whether you have a supportive one or not. What if you'd been an abused teen? I can easily see the street being the place where you wind up.

mama's got moxie said...

you inspire me to be more courageous with my photo taking (i won't dare call it photography because that sorta implies that i know what the heck i'm doing behind the camera!!). for some reason i'm always thinking that someone will scream, "don't take my picture!!!" if i just start shooting in public.

Kitty said...

Thanks Mama!
I think it's wonderful you're becoming more courageous. It's a little easier in NY, since I blend in with all the tourists. At first I didn't like looking like a tourist. Now it's my refuge.

My thought is, play dumb. If someone objects, apologize...but it doesn't hurt to try.

Hope you're having a good summer so far!

Carolyn said...

Interesting pic. what a contrast.

Kitty said...

Thanks Carolyn!