Whittle: Taking photos on streets of despair
By DAN WHITTLE
Have Fuji, will focus.
Add his back-up little Canon 70-D camera, and Scott Walker is armed and ready for a day of photography.
But, not just any old snapshot.
Scott takes art-quality photographs of people, but not your ordinary next-door-neighbor persons.
"You take pictures of street people?" Scott was asked.
"We talk and share about their living conditions, as I take pictures," Scott added. "It's really a soul-stirring-emotional-awakening, seeing up close and personal the hard living conditions some people are going through."
"Both of my cameras are small, fitting easy in one hand," Scott describes. "My small cameras seem to very non-confrontational to the people I walk up on out on the streets. I think to them, I appear to be a tourist walking amongst them."
But, there can be dangers out on the streets of despair.
"I've only had two what you might describe as negative incidents, out of the 100s of photographic expeditions I've made the past 18 months or so," Scott shared. "And one of those was a nice lady, who pleaded for me not to take her picture, 'because I'm not fixed up.' So, I didn't take her picture."
But, there can be "drama."
"One street person, a male, threatened me with a yellow cone, the type you see marking off the streets," Scott added. "Another homeless man living in a homeless camp here in Murfreesboro, requested I not take his picture because he said he was 'wanted' by the police.'"
"To get the perfect picture," Scott shared. "Nine out of 10 people I encounter, they have no problem with me and my camera. Usually, we start and share a casual conversation as I take pictures. This man, I handed him several warm blankets someone had donated back at the radio station. We ended up shaking hands and wishing each other well.
Asked why most street people he encounters are homeless, Scott replied: "Mostly, you can tell there are mental health issues. Some of them are military veterans. One veteran had a sign on his make-shift shanty, 'Come Back Later.'
"Upon visiting with him, the veteran of Desert Storm turned out to be a very nice man," Scott assessed. "Actually, he didn't consider himself 'homeless' due to the shelter he'd constructed out of a tarp and some concrete blocks down by the Cumberland River in Nashville."
"And once in a while, I run into someone who is 'high' on something," Scott added. "You can often smell strong alcohol on their breath."
Most of the street people Scott encounters are on the streets of Nashville and Murfreesboro, two of Tennessee's most affluent-rated cities.
"Once in while, I'll venture to a motel in Nashville, where homeless people are known to stay, and I knock on doors at random, and ask if I can make pictures there in the room being lived in as it actually is," Scott described. "Most will invite 'come on in' … but I'm curious about some of them, for they don't bother to get up from laying on the bed … they'll just stay laid down as I take my pictures."
He recalls one particularly emotionally sad situation at an elderly woman's residence: "This 90-year-old woman invited me to come in, and she was living there in the motel with a deaf son. She shared that she had grown up in Nashville, near the old Gerst House Restaurant down by Second Avenue.
"She continued smoking a cigarette as I made pictures, but shared as I was about to leave, contending that claims of smoking will kill you, 'is a damn lie.'
"I photographed a man in his motel room, eating chili directly out of a can … he shared that he got most of his tattoos while in prison."
Most of Scott's digital camera work is done in black and white.
"I like the texture and feel, the real effect of black and white photography," Scott described. "Black and white tends to show stark, contrasting vivid reality."