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Artless, Heartless, Neither, or Both?

Posted 3/24/2010

I rarely question the ethics of journalism, but the article "Homeless and Hungry" (Feature, March 10) really goes over the edge into the swamp of low-class "disaster porn." It is atrocious from several points of view.

First, the article tells us or shows us nothing more than we already know. Guys are poor; guys are homeless; homeless, poor guys are unshaven and don't dress well. What a stroke of journalistic insight! Rather than respecting the subjects as people, the men are objectified. Unidentified, without humanity or even existence except as pieces of a picture.

Secondly, the pictures themselves are of questionable quality. They are straight-on shots, illuminating nothing about the individuals that might be seen by something a little more inventive, insightful, or compassionate. The few attempts at variety, to introduce some sort of art, are the occasional clipped head or strange composition--with no relationship to the actual content--seemingly random as if even the photographer got bored with his attempts.

Thirdly, the presentation is horrible. What is the expected result of a display of photography printed relatively small on coarse newsprint, where all the finer tones and details--if they did exist in the originals--would be lost? What could the editors have been thinking to consider this the correct venue for an attempt at "art"?

This article is certainly the nadir of City Paper publishing.

Lewis Lorton
Columbia

There doesn't seem to be a way to e-mail Michael Northrup directly, so I just wanted to say that I found his photos of the homeless very thought-provoking. I see kind eyes and intelligent eyes and calm expressions and expressions of resignation. These people could be our neighbors. Thank you for personalizing them.

Now the questions: I, too, drive on MLK several times a week and I am both amused and appalled at the "housekeeping" setup at Franklin Street. I've seen sofas, and chairs and clothes racks, and this week even a table and chairs beside the underpass. Sometimes, there are several pairs of shoes lined up in tidy order, and the site has the look of semi-permanence. The person who is living there at this time has his clothes neatly hung on hangers on a nearby tree.

The items seem to be allowed to stay there for a time, and then everything disappears, only to be re-organized several days later.

Is this the territory of just one person--and the same one every time? I imagine that periodically they are made to move, as the site gets cleared from time to time. Why is that site holder allowed to stay so long? It would seem to be setting a precedent, an invitation for others to do the same (although, truth to tell, I've only once seen another site stay for several weeks in a different location along MLK.)

I would love to know more about this situation and about the "housekeeper" behind it.

Alice Rohart
Baltimore

Congratulations to Mr. Michael Northrup, who views the homeless people as iconographic. I used to donate money to the homeless people who beg along the highways leading to and from Baltimore City.

Suddenly, it dawned on me when a friend of mine asked one of the homeless persons what they did with all of the money they collected at the end of the day. The homeless man responded that he buys drugs and alcohol.

I used to feel sorry for these homeless beggars until I kept seeing the same faces at the same corners, holding the same sign.

I have often asked myself, Why are you hungry when you can go to a variety of shelters within the city and get a meal? I also asked myself, Why sleep in abandoned houses when you can visit a shelter to get out of the rain and cold? Also, I ask myself Why not live with a relative and work a temp job?

I stopped giving them money when I spoke to a few of them and I smelled alcohol. They work the highways and streets seven days a week, but wear the same clothes week after week. They can also go to an area shelter and get free donated clean clothes.

There is one thing I agree with Mr. Northrup about: They all have a sad story to tell you about their lives. They are expert TRICK MASTERS.

Charles Washington
Baltimore

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