Thursday, December 1, 2016

On the Street…University Place, New York

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I see this woman in my neighborhood occasionally ( usually when I’m on my bike, this was my first chance to photograph her).

 

She’s always wearing some version of this splatter pattern on every item she’s wearing.

 

I wonder if anyone here knows her story.

 

Shots like this are challenging because it’s tempting to jump to conclusions about her economic situation (which none or few here know the facts) but all that we do know is that she has a wonderful eccentricity.

 

I don’t know what kind of comments are appropriate for a photo like this other than something like “more power to her”. Photographers like Lissette Model and Diane Arbus made their careers shooting people on the fringes of society but I wonder if those type of photos today feel informative or exploitive?

 

Maybe I’m overthinking but I do love her commitment to a creative expression of her personality.

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74 comments

  1. RJH de la Haye

    December 1, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks Scott…there is more to life than fashionistas/tos…this is one of your most intriguing photos.

    • RJH de la Haye

      December 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      Ciao one and all…a few weeks ago after seeing this photograph on Scotts instagram,I asked Scott if he could post the photograph on the blog,as I was more than curious what all the regulars and other commenters thoughts would be…and voila the comments are pouring in…keep them coming!

  2. Dwight

    December 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Well, I don’t know what y’all are seeing but I know an expression of personal self worth, dignity, when I see one. The shoes tell me there is something very real about this. So, when was the last time you saw real dignity sitting on the sidewalk, huh? Great photo, Scott, belongs in a museum or something.

  3. Argy

    December 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Does she know you photographed her? Why haven’t you asked her about her story?

    • Maria

      December 1, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      She has nodded off, and so is unaware of what is going on around her. She doesn’t know that Scott has taken a picture of her. Its likely that he was reluctant to wake her up. She knows she is in a public place, I am sure. If she dressed like that, she certainly doesn’t mind being seen.

      • Leonard

        February 28, 2017 at 11:51 pm

        Maria, you nailed it with “she doesn’t mind being seen (herself)…” And, certainly someone quite sure of themselves-whether she is retired professor, depressed former executive, Enron investor that lost it all, Duke Ellington’s long lost sister, surely WOULD put this much effort in ‘looking’ the way she presents herself.

        So sad that people assume the most negative about her being asleep on a street corner. I guess being photographed in a $25,000 Dior smacking gum @ The Met would be “fierceness.” #weHope4theBestinPhilly

  4. Christopher Benton

    December 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Were you unable to talk to her? I imagine that all of your questions would’ve have been answered or at least a simple conversation would’ve revealed a few things. I think you may have answered your own question about informative vs. exploitive.

    • ISA

      January 6, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      BINGO. If she is seen all the time, why wait until she is asleep to take her picture ? Doesn’t that rob her of her choice and thus her dignity ?

  5. Saba

    December 1, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    I feel so strongly about this — style is for everyone. I used to see a woman in the Dishes (a salad bar style place) in the Park Avenue CitiCorps building in New York. She never ordered more than a cup of coffee. She was the most stylish woman on Park Avenue until I got closer and realized that she was possibly poor or homeless since her clothes were quite worn, she carried a shopping bag full of stuff, and she had a compulsive manner of going through some papers. Hooray for her! I saw her several times. She was terrific and inspiring and I loved her. So, hooray for you, Scott, for always including that style comes in endless forms and endless individuals.

  6. Ida

    December 1, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Why don´t you talk to her?

  7. The Fop

    December 1, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    I met her just last week! It was 4am the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I was huddled in front of an outlet in Penn Station. I had already been waiting for a few hours and was trying to charge my phone which was dead. I was trying to jam the (broken) charger into my phone so I could pull up my bus ticket when I heard someone stop and ask if I was okay. (Apparently I looked pretty miserable) I turned around and was greeted by our friend. She was sporting her finely decorated layered ensemble along with a matching suitcase! What your picture fails to capture is her warm smile, twinkling eyes and soothing voice. She asked if I was stuck and I explained that the only thing stuck was the charger I had just bought off a street vendor and desperately needed to get home for Thanksgiving. Her eyes lit up and she unzipped the front zipper of her suitcase. She explained that although she didn’t have a phone (it was stolen the week before) she did have a few chargers and produced a large tangle. She told me I could keep the charger and she was happy to help someone in need. Her generosity and wonderful congeniality seemed out of place in the bustle of the NYC station. I complimented her on her clothes and she told me she was a painter. I told her that I too was an artist and I was just coming from Boston where I had just begun studies under a classical oil painter, to which she replied, I don’t study I just do. We exchanged happy wishes for the upcoming holidays and she zipped up her suitcase and picked up a picture frame she had set down (I didn’t notice it before) and with a friendly smile and “God Bless” she was off.

    • joanne

      December 2, 2016 at 2:43 am

      What a great story – thanks!

    • Roelien

      December 2, 2016 at 9:15 am

      so this is one of those occasions where words tell a lot more than pictures. but even without this story, this woman is worthy of a picture in which she actively takes part, like all the other women on this blog.
      diane arbus wouldn’t have hesitated to speak with her and find out for herself.
      but then i guess she wasn’t focused on clothes, ‘style’ or even appearance.

    • MollyBloom

      December 2, 2016 at 10:27 am

      Wow!! Thanks for that!

    • Anthony

      December 2, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      That was fascinating. It bears out Scott’s caution about how we read people, with the eye, the heart, the word, the camera.

    • Name*

      December 2, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      this never happened

    • Maria

      December 3, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      This is somewhat interesting fiction. But it indeed never happened, as the anon before me has mentioned. Haven’t we lost enough by trying to stick to an unrealistic, politically motivated fictional narrative?

      • MollyBloom

        December 5, 2016 at 4:26 pm

        I’ve usually got a pretty good bs meter. Do you really think so?

        • Maria

          December 11, 2016 at 9:02 am

          I don’t think its meant to be a lie. I think its meant to be a story. It is unlikely That she would just so happen to have a bunch of phone chargers just as the comment maker needed one. You don’t need to pull up your ticket info on your phone. They do it for you, and all you needYou would have to be seriously careless to be packed and ready to go get on a bus, but to have neither your ticket with you, nor your phone charged up, but even if you did, you don’t need to look up your ticket. Its not like you are going to show your cell phone to the driver, and they will let you on. If you don’t have your ticket, you need your ID, and then you just tell them your name, phone number or e mail. THEY look it up.

    • nancyquaglia

      December 5, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      You have made my eyes tear up.

    • Malior

      December 6, 2016 at 2:33 am

      Angels unaware (BIG SMILE)

  8. Peter

    December 1, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Museum, i wouldn’t go that far. ;-)

    Well… why not just hello, instead wo hide behind things,
    our phones, our cameras. I wouldn’t have said hello,
    sometimes it easier to avoid…

  9. cass

    December 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    I would love to know her story, perhaps she is a painter who likes to nap on the sidewalk. Her look is great!

  10. christinevand

    December 1, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    I have seen her many times in the West Village, but never looking so woebegone as captured in this image. She is most often surrounded by her art – canvases and objects – all spattered in her Pollock-like style for sale on the street, and West Fourth at Sixth Avenue is one of her favored spots.

  11. Monsieur Marcel

    December 1, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I’m guessing this person is exhausted from creating that incredible outfit. And it’s a dignified exhaustion, to paraphrase commenter Dwight.

  12. freddie brown

    December 1, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Yeah Scott. Do ask about her. I would and have had conversations with homeless peeps (not that she is one) . To not be perceived to exploit someone not in their best image, it would be nice to stop and talk – even wake her with a Hello and big smile. Get out of your comfort zone Scott :) Great pictures are not all about fashion or eccentricity. It’s about stylish humanity and you only caught part of it this time…in my opinion (and yes, there are lots of opinions). I would like to challenge you to empower her by empowering yourself to share her story. I want to know. Please.

  13. Maria

    December 1, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Its a cool capture. Doubtful that her situation is good, wether due to economic circumstance or something else. No, we don’t know the facts, but its appropriate to use one’s experience with humanity to make an educated guess. If “beyond a reasonable doubt” is good enough for a judge and jury, I think its good enough here too. Strong portrait, indeed. It would be wonderful to know her story. By splatter, do we mean actual paint splatter? Funny, she reminds me of a photograph of Jean-Michel Basquait I saw once. Perhaps she is a painter?

  14. Joesephine

    December 1, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    If anyone walking by can see her, then it can’t really be too exploitive to photograph her. No one has the expectation of privacy on a street corner in New York. About as public as it gets. I can think of only so many reasons why a person would nod off outside like this, and none of those are positive. At least we know she has some place to live, if she has several different outfits. That makes me feel better. Of course, for all we know she is just eccentric and nothing bad is going on at all. It looks to me like she paints in her clothing.

  15. lynne

    December 1, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    artist of the everyday

  16. Glenn

    December 1, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Why didnt you ask her? Why was this shot different to the other photographs you take of people? Seems a bit odd not asking or getting permission.

    • joanne

      December 2, 2016 at 2:50 am

      I agree. Everybody should be asked, especially if the photo is shot in order to be publically displayed. Also, it always seems a bit unfair to me to photograph people sleeping, i.e. at their most vulnerable and oblivious. So yes, I do find it exploitive. In my experience, if we have moral doubts about what we’re doing, we should listen to that gut feeling and just refrain from doing it.

    • Joesephine

      December 2, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      Because you have a perfect right to take the picture of anyone, and anything that is in public. Public is not the same as private, and she is obviously asleep. It really surprises me how people seem to think that there is some kind of right to privacy when you are on a crowded street corner. IF she is perfectly fine with EVERYONE THAT WALKS BY to see her, then she should be perfectly fine by logic for someone to see a picture of the SAME thing. Asking people is simply an EXTRA courtesy.

      • joanne

        December 3, 2016 at 4:30 am

        So for you there’s no difference between a legal and a moral right nor between being seen and being photographed? Always surprising how strongly personal ethics can differ.

        • Joesephine

          December 3, 2016 at 12:29 pm

          If this was a wealthy white male looking the other way, or down at his watch, would you be equally outraged?

          • joanne

            December 4, 2016 at 5:16 am

            Joesephine, I’m not “outraged”, I just don’t think it’s okay. And no, if this were about a “wealthy white male”, that would not change my ethics. Having said that, I do think a not-affluent female artist who dozes on the sidewalk is in greater need of compassion – and possibly protection – than your fictional rich guy would be.

      • Bill

        December 13, 2016 at 3:36 pm

        That’s not the question, Josephine. The question is that the sartorialist writes:

        “Shots like this are challenging because it’s tempting to jump to conclusions about her economic situation (which none or few here know the facts) but all that we do know is that she has a wonderful eccentricity.”

        If he’s so unsure that he has to wonder about the ethics of taking this photo, then the obvious answer is to ask her.

        But maybe he feels like too much of an elitist to ask a street person if he could treat her like an animal in a zoo.

  17. Don

    December 1, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    I think you struck the right balance – not always easy to do. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Janea at theSTYLetti.com

    December 1, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    OMG!! This same woman threw water at my back one summer day, because I had snapped a picture of her. At the time, she had some kind of instrument case also with that same speckled paint on it. I ended up deleting the photo, because she made it so clear that she didn’t like my taking it of her. But, she is truly something to behold when it comes to personal expression! XO
    Janea
    http://theSTYLetti.com

  19. Nini piccola

    December 2, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Thank you for your sensitivity Scott. And I agree with the previous poster why not ask her who she is and what her story is? Delicately.

  20. Clotilde

    December 2, 2016 at 1:26 am

    I am often quite tired of seeing so many pix of individuals of the fashion industry on your blog, so I am not going to complain at that one !
    About being exploitive or not: I never found Diane Arbus exploitive, she had an interest in people on the fringes of the society as you say, and her work is a testimony of the life of those people. They also deserved to be in the light one in a while, like everyone else, as they had interesting lives in a different world. So I would not worry too much about that.
    About talking to this woman: I would be just natural, you don’t have to be ”delicate”. She is certainly much stronger than you are, as her current life is probably a ”bit” harder than yours. Being delicate can be perceived as a form of pity, and of superiority in a way, this would be wrong.

  21. Sunny side

    December 2, 2016 at 2:49 am

    I love The Fop’s comment on this lady.

  22. david h

    December 2, 2016 at 4:09 am

    A wonderful outfit.
    Scott, I appreciate that you make the effort for us all to be inspired by people everywhere. Rich our poor, life is a beautiful struggle.

  23. Rachelle

    December 2, 2016 at 5:42 am

    One day if she seems more alert just ask her, and thank you for being so sensitive about it. I totally get it but she’s such a great character.

    xo
    Pinksole

  24. Andreas

    December 2, 2016 at 7:15 am

    Scott, I like your blog, I like that woman’s style but I don’t like this photo.

    She may be eccentric but I doubt this is her favorite way to present herself.
    Either take your camera to your bike trips or just wait for a more dignified opportunity.

    If you think she’s too near to the fringe of society to be worth a little chat you might be too near to the other fringe yourself.

  25. The Italian Glam

    December 2, 2016 at 8:25 am

    we shouldn’t judge her economic situation, she’s just a very eccentric woman, the story should be about this, at least this is what I think
    http://www.theitalianglam.com/

  26. greenheron

    December 2, 2016 at 8:35 am

    I used to run a supper for homeless people, and one night a man came in whom I’d gone to art school with. He was initially embarrassed to see me, but I sat down with a cup coffee and we caught up as if we’d run into one another at an opening. He’d become homeless for mental health issues, yet was sharp, as creative as ever, still making art.

    According to one of the commenters, this woman sells her paintings on the street. Buying a painting is a beautiful way to contribute with dignity rather than as charity. I bet her work is good. I would love for her to paint one of my jackets.

  27. glenn

    December 2, 2016 at 9:50 am

    I’m glad you are thinking about this stuff Scott. The photographer’s eye can see and capture so much, but can also be intrusive and exploitative. To have any sort of integrity a photographer should always be thinking about and questioning their own motivation for every shot. When dealing with people a photographer has the opportunity to step out from behind the camera and make a connection, interact, talk.

  28. Mark Downing

    December 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Do you get her permission to publish the photo?

  29. JV

    December 2, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    People on the fringes of society are just as worthy subjects as anyone else, and to treat them with kid gloves I think is condescending, so I have no problems with photos like this one. However, if you are curious about her story and you see here often, why not strike up a conversation?

  30. Sariah

    December 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Good thought provoking post and discussion. I hope you see her again some time, awake, and get to talk to her so you can follow up (not necessarily to take her picture).

  31. Begonia Berges

    December 2, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Hola!

    That fabulous woman is Mona Lisa. I met her 2 years ago when shooting a movie at Grand Central. I have dressed an actor as a homeless and lot of real homeless people that spend their days at the station were looking at him while acting (crew was small so it wasn’t obvious we were shooting a movie!) Mona Lisa approached me and told me “Who’s that? he is not one of the regulars” I told her he was an actor and we laughed. She told me I did a good job, which makes me VERY proud coming from her.

    We then spend like 30 minutes chatting about life in Grand Central, Penn Station and life as a homeless in general and of course, her fabulous wardrobe (also how nice she smelled, like shea butter!) She told me she paints everything herself. I was amazed ( She also claimed to be Marvin Gaye’s daughter but that’s another story!) I suggested to the director for her to have a short appearance in the movie to which she agreed. We asked her what we could give her in exchange and she asked us to buy her lunch. A month later i saw her at Penn Station. Made me so happy I run to her to say hi; it took her a while to remember me but we ended up having a good chat again.

    Not used to blogs and not sure how to upload an image but here I leave you with a link to a picture I took with her that day. Made my day. :)

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152673422791971&set=t.621031970&type=3&theater

    • joanne

      December 3, 2016 at 4:36 am

      Unfortunately the link doesn’t work or is only accessible to a certain group :(( I would have loved to have seen the photo. Thanks for the story, anyway!

  32. Laurie

    December 2, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    I like her style, but wish the photo had captured her awake, and not near a grate…

  33. Christine

    December 3, 2016 at 2:45 am

    Thank you Scott for this picture, I would like to see more like this.

  34. Harry

    December 3, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.I am starving, starving for attention. But don’t take my picture! A strategem calculated to melt the hearts of some unwitting soul. Took a lot of thought to come up with this Living Jackson Pollock look. Here I am on my crate contemplating the mysteries of life. What could me more agreeable?

    • Dixie

      December 6, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Wow, that is such a cold view of the world. It’s sad to me that your reaction to this photo is so deeply negative and cynical. Warm up to humanity before you lose your own.

      • joanne

        December 6, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        I agree with Dixie! Initially I found your cynical comments kinda funny, Harry, but this is just off-putting imo.

  35. Horizon

    December 3, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    nice to see here other very present sides of everyday street-life and self-expression.

  36. Wendy.

    December 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    We all have stories. Human avoidance and disconnect is a detriment to our society. Say “hello” and what unfolds from there can be extraordinary. Every human deserves respect and dignity. We need to see each other’s souls.

  37. Sono Scott

    December 5, 2016 at 5:30 am

    You are one of very few fashion bloggers who takes thought-provoking photos, combining fashion with sociological/artistic aspects, (not just chasing trends/commercial interest), encouraging debates which draw even more though provoking comments from followers.

  38. Jorge

    December 7, 2016 at 5:54 am

    I see a puzzled, lonely person…

  39. Anna

    December 8, 2016 at 11:49 am

    this shot is amazing!
    so contemporary!
    there is nothing bad in fixing the moment. I adore photographers turning their eye to real environment, with all its struggle and beauty, rather than artificially grown fashion community adepts :)

  40. Dag

    December 11, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    The photo is amazing — SHE is amazing. I see a lady sitting at my freeway exit, always dressed very classy, little fitted sweater, slim jeans, gold color jewelry – a slim bracelet and/or necklace. Very “good” 70′s. Believe it or not, she inspires me. She’s homeless but that doesn’t define her. I know this sounds corny, but to me she’s a forecaster of a new society. I always have something in my car for her in case she’s there :-).

  41. Pang

    December 13, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Such a warm thought of you. Thank for sharing. Love all comments indeed.

  42. Jaap Arriens

    December 14, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Good question Scott. Like the saying goes “all photographs have already been taken”. It’s more difficult than ever to distinguish oneself as a photographer but like with many things this just means we need to go further and push the boundaries even more for a photograph to be noticed and or make a difference.
    On the other side some work just needs to keep being done, if we let the disenfranchised and impoverished out of photography just because it’s a common trope then an important story is being kept from the public. The work needs to be continued because it still is an important part of the sotry of being human and the practice of photography and art.

  43. Jonas

    December 14, 2016 at 6:29 am

    Life and art just happen, thank your for sharing and making us thinking

  44. izzy

    December 21, 2016 at 5:26 am

    ASK
    HER

    (?)

  45. Claire

    December 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Hey Scott. I think it says so much that you chose to take this photo while she was sleeping and unable to express — explicitly or otherwise — her approval or consent. You can fall back on readers’ assertions that you are dignifying this woman by treating her like any other person on the street, or that her mere appearance in public gives you permission to share her image with millions of people, but that is ignoring the fact that marginalized persons deserve additional protections. What would help preserve her dignity here? Asking for her permission and presenting her as the vibrant woman it sounds as though she is. Fair is not always equal. Your unease about the morality of sharing this particular photo says everything: It is indeed exploitative.

    • PB

      December 27, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you Claire, this needed to be said! This was indeed an exploitative shot, give her the courtesy of asking for her permission while she has some control of how she is portrayed on a fashion blog. How does this empower / preserve dignity? Do any of us want to be shown here sleeping without permission? That said, I am happy you recognized legitimate unease and that you recognize beauty in a variety of places.

  46. Erika

    December 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

    I did homeless outreach in both Penn station and Grand Central for two years in the mid 2000s and would occasionally meet this woman in both of those stations. In the comments here I see people who have also had interactions with her, some very heart warming and some quiet confrontational. In all of my interactions with her she never wanted to be seen speaking to someone wearing a bright orange shirt with “homeless outreach” printed on it, and she would often run away from us or curse at us as we got close. She seems like a woman who is trying very hard to extend what little control she has over her circumstances and enviornment. On a day that i was off duty and just passing through grand central I complimented her shoes and she smiled at me. She is an artist through and through and the work she puts in to her appearance is a display of her humanity during hard times- not something you see, even in the best of time, in Penn Station.

    • Sabrina

      December 23, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      Love this, Erika – thank you so much for sharing it!

  47. shena

    January 7, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Rhetorical questions and philosophical thought, especially for “fashion” street photography: Who get’s asked for permission to photo and who does not? Why ask some and not others? Who deserves the “come up” and who does not?

  48. kko

    January 19, 2017 at 10:48 am

    So what?
    She’s unhappy and resigned
    Whatever she *sports*
    Cant you see?

  49. Gabriela

    January 26, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    A bit late, but the first thing that came to mind in answer to your question about giving the photo a title was a Jackson Pollock painting in the flesh–a nexus where the world of art meets reality. This woman is able to exist in both worlds simultaneously. And this requires courage.

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