Woman on Gladys Avenue between 5th and 6th streets
I parked on Gladys Avenue late one Saturday afternoon to check in with Bridget, a woman I did a photo essay with a few months back. Bridget is a dedicated recycling machine, toiling tirelessly throughout Skid Row to earn a few dollars a day for her heavy labor. On this day, I had taken some heat from one of the drug dealers up the street toward 6th because he didn’t like the way I had parked my car, so I decided to placate him and moved my car across the street. These guys are generally humorless in their dealings with outsiders, inhospitable and difficult to predict or relate with, even on the most superficial terms. Some of them have been seen slapping women in broad daylight in the middle of the street, women that I know personally and that I have photographed many times. I parked close by a rambling tent structure, covered by tarps and barely able to contain the miscellaneous items that I could see poking through the perimeter. There were bicycles, piles of clothing, plastic containers filled with unidentifiable objects, brooms along with other items that didn’t quite register as individual pieces, but as a general disconnected tangle of belongings, past and present. What really caught my attention was a bible, placed on a tall box that was pushed against the wall next to the tent. It seemed at the time to be a makeshift lectern….the Bible was opened , its spine softened with use. It lay, as if someone had been standing quietly reading, and likely been interrupted by a random encounter of some kind. I thought of how to frame that picture, how to include enough context to make it meaningful but not so much that the individual nature of the Bible as the subject would get lost in the composition. As I stood, the lady pictured here asked me if I was a photographer. I replied in the same way I always do when asked this question….I’m working on it. She asked for me to take her picture, with her bible. Sure…..not the picture I had in mind originally but that idea probably wouldn’t have been particularly compelling anyway. She ducked into her tent and emerged, glowing with some hastily applied makeup and a natural looking, curly wig. She looked happy and serene and radiant all of a sudden, and I realized that the prospect of having her picture taken was an exciting and unusual event, worthy of time spent with a mirror and comb. We snapped some pictures, her eyes closed partially in a few, a slight smile but full of surprising depth for such a small change in facial musculature……a smile that stood in stark contrast with the scars on her face left over from a long ago battle.