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on sleeping on the streets of portland, part 2 (b & w)

 Continued from . . . “on sleeping on the streets of portland, part 1 (color).

Outside my apartment during the past two weeks, a lady in her fifties, maybe, with an overfilled shopping cart, her possessions piled high and secured, had chosen to pass the day and the night, not moving far, often prone on the sidewalk but out of the way for pedestrians to pass without stepping on or over her.

The other day I walked by a stretch of street with two adjacent popular restaurants. The tables were taken and the terrace tables, newly installed during the pandemic to provide safe, out door dining, were all taken. Brunch is popular in Portland. Across the narrow side street and clearly visible to all were four tents, neatly pitched, and no trash cluttering the pavement.

On another day I happened to pass Voodoo Donuts. As usual a long line extended along the wall from the entrance to West Burnside. The patrons generally were young, although some adults stood patiently waiting, well dressed and clean and fresh. A jazz saxophone player played music.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Down a side street and one block away is a Salvation Army distribution center where, on that same day when I passed Voodoo Donuts, a young woman was handing out plates of food through a small window to the street people who had lined up, like those waiting patiently for their donuts, just a short walk away. These people looked tired and unkempt, frankly dirty in some cases, brown from the sun.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

By chance I had recently watched a video that described the life of the documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. She was known for taking pictures of the Depression era. Her most well known photograph is the 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, “Migrant Mother”. Many of the people I see living on the streets of Portland remind me of the images she took.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen #

    I don’t see any comments.
    Dorothea’s famous Migrant Mother generated thousands in donations. She purposefully did not include the elder daughter who would have shown the mother had a companion and helper rather than being alone with two children. I think she had 4.
    Beggars in Portland can be quite well dressed and healthy and clean. Others pose pitifully, then take your money and buy a NYTs and coffee at Starbucks.
    The Laurelhurst encampment may drive out the homeowners…residents and businesses have left and will increasingly if the homeless continue to encroach. Surely many are now anarchists.
    Better to volunteer and help Mike than edit out the comprehensive look at this problem even if a flameout.

  2. Hello, Helen.

    You might like to watch the YouTube video called “Dorothea Lange – An American Odyssey” and there is an article in the New York Times Style Magazine that is worth reading, “How Dorothea Lange Defined the Role of the Modern Photojournalist.”

    She chose not to include her 14 year old in the photograph “Migrant Mother,” not for the reason you mentioned, but for compositional reasons. She did take one, maybe two, photographs with the 14 year old, but realized quickly that the focus of the scene rested on the mother, Florence Owens Thompson, and her face. Dorothea Lange then positioned the three other children present and took some more photographs. Finally, Lange turned the heads of two children away from the camera and placed the youngest in Ms Thompson’s arms. There are three children in the photo.

    For the last 12-18 months I have walked the streets of my neighborhoods, the districts i mentioned, and have taken many many photographs of the encampments as they come and go. I have encountered many of the people who sleep in them. Others I have seen simply on the streets. They are unwell, physically and mentally; some I have seen shooting drugs; some I have over heard discussing where they might get another meal or a place to sleep or to get clean. Some have learned to take public transportation (without paying).

  3. Helen WS #

    It would be difficult to find criticism of Dorothea’s work. She was brilliant and raised so many donations for the destitute. But clearly she had an intention to increase the sense of the mother’s suffering by leaving out the older girl. She posed the children to enhance her message. My impression was the older girl looked strong and mature, when I last looked at the series 20 years ago.

    A photo of a mother and her children is not just about the mother. The photo is not called Migrant Woman.

    I would never compare the homelessness today with Depression Era homelessness. And that I will leave for another discussion, not comments about a post. Suffice to say a 14 year old child in the Depression Era (in fact, in many “eras”) is not the same as a high school freshman today. Briefly put, older children helped raise younger children, the extent depending on size of family and income. And to be petty, I did mention 4 children though haven’t seen the series for a long time.

    Some journalists pose people in pictures. Some don’t. Some people care…were not happy to learn Cartier Bresson (sp) posed his famous kiss.

    • Helen,
      Greetings again. I agree with much of what you wrote. My only question concerns Henri-Cartier Bresson and his famous kiss. I am wondering if you might be thinking of “The Kiss” of Robert Doisneau or “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville” as it is sometimes called. ( There is the VJ kiss, too. What made me pause was the note that he had staged a shot. When he took contract portraits, he would visit the homes and talk, carry on a conversation, and take a handful of photos; that is all. He would not pose them. On one occasion, when his clients–the husband and wife–opened the door, he snapped the shot and that was it. The Musée Carnavalet has an exhibit with original prints of his work. I don’t believe a kiss photo was there. (but that does not prove anything, of course.) Best to you and Greg.


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