This is not an overnight thing. These deep layers of grime in the skin take years not months to develop. I know this man, I have seen him for the last 6 years, spoken to him, bought him a coffee or two. He has always been polite but I got the feeling he would rather have not been engaged in conversation. He has never been clean, always alone and usually asleep. I have heard people remark that the ‘homeless’ are lazy, usually drunk or drugged up to the eyeballs and always trying to get something for nothing, I guess some are. The reality for most of them is that to sleep at night invites hideous intrusions into their lives that we can only imagine the horror of, so they sleep during the day. The night is a safer place, a complete reversal of how most of us live our lives. Night is for being on your guard, for having to be alert, for looking over your shoulder and hoping you survive for another day. Another day to be stepped over, ignored or ridiculed.
This photograph was taken in August 2013 and I have only just realized that I have not seen him since then. I really hope he made it through the bone chilling cold that New York has suffered and has not become yet another member of Hart Island’s growing population. To point a camera at someone who could survive for a year on what it cost to buy is a humbling experience for me. I understand the paradox.
It is a hard call, but grime is only skin deep.