59th Street And Lexington Avenue, New York City
As I walk around with my camera, I sometimes see things that surprise me. It is New York City, after all, and full of surprises. But sometimes I see something that doesn’t surprise me….it shocks me. When I saw this woman, I felt instantly guilty. I felt healthy and well fed, and the weight and comfort of my camera around my neck reminded me of my luck and relative privilege. I felt my heart beat faster, and I knew that I had to photograph what I saw in a respectful manner, while still conveying that tragedy and grit and disparity on view.
The Panhandler’s Cat, 34th Street And 7th Avenue, New York City
He loves Molly, and, to the best of his ability, cares for her every need. Almost every need….warmth, shelter and the ability to get up at will and move about are not considerations in these circumstances. Animals on the street are well loved….but sometimes it is apparent that they are an indispensable prop used by people who need a daily cash drip to buy drugs, usually heroin or fentanyl. I’m not in a position to analyze the opioid situation as it exists, but I do know what I see. I see this trickling down, all the way to the most innocent of bystanders: our pets. They are outside in all weather. Often in frigid temperatures while their owners are passed out, they are forced to remain immobilized on a lap, sometimes held tightly and prevented from moving by their people. It’s hard to find anger when I witness these scenes that are so clearly unfair to the creatures trapped in these hands that act as a vise. I feel a mixture of regret and despair for their owners, who are caught in the snare of profit and subterfuge and dehumanization that characterizes the network that brings these drugs, often delivering them regularly to the very corner that they occupy with their pets.
So many people stopped….this man held our attention even as onlookers stopped to admire Macy’s holiday display. He sat, bloody hands as a result of damaged veins at his injection sites, cradling a donut some well meaning Samaritan had given him. Young mothers place dollar bills in little hands, encouraging their children to courageously approach this unfamiliar and newly discovered tragedy, directing their hands as they unknowingly gave him bits and pieces of the amount necessary for him to buy from one of the suppliers who walk these streets profiting directly from this misery. They had no idea that it was not the fatigue of a man without his own bed, sleeping on the street. They had no idea that the dollars that they gave him would not go to food or blankets or a hotel room for the night….would those be the very dollar bills used to buy the fentanyl that could trigger an overdose that may take his life?
He tried hard to please everybody….he took a bite from every gift of pastry, a bagel, an apple. He spoke briefly with a woman, and his despair and humiliation and hatred for himself was on display, along with his blood.