The Magic Frame: Homeless



I am quoting, once again, from the e-book that I am working on.

I generally try and avoid shooting homeless people. This is something that I used to do a lot when I was younger. In countries like India, it is always easy to find and shoot a homeless person, and in my younger days, I would do that a lot.

However, while I still shoot them from time to time, it is not something that I like to do.

Unlike us, who have homes to go back to, a homeless person does not have the luxury of that privacy.

It is unpleasant to shoot a homeless person, while they stand or sit on the streets, trying to live their lives, and clinging on to the last shreds of human dignity that the rest of us allow them.

Many of them do not have a name.”

It is indeed sad, in  my humble view, that a country that seeks to progress cannot take all, or most, of its citizens along with it.

There is, in my view, an element of exploitation that is involved, when a photographer shoots a poor person, and trumps it around with the words, “Real life, dude. This is real life.”

Yes, it is real life, but it is not a life that we lead, or even share. We participate, through the lens, for a moment. A brief moment.

Street photography has to be approached with compassion and respect, for those who inhabit the streets, and who allow us to share their space with them.



  1. I think the draw for photographing those who appear to be homeless is the character within their being and the reality of their person…no hiding behind a false front. I generally ask permission and afterwards leave a bit of money.

  2. I have never taken a photograph of a homeless person for some of the reasons you mentioned. It feels like I am invading their space. There have been occasions when I wanted to but decided against it.

    1. In India, we have homeless people everywhere. Some, with no work, and some with. It is impossible to avoid them

      I just try and treat them with with respect

  3. My son, who shoots a lot of city scenes, once took an image of a homeless man in New York. Afterward we had a long discussion about privacy and “ethics” of his shot. I find that allowing respect and curtesy is nearly always the right approach.

  4. We too have an abundance of homeless people in Canada and our climate is not as accommodating as in India. We’ve had people freeze to death in the winter.
    As distasteful as it may seem, I think the homeless want their stories told. Each person has a story – whether mental illness, addiction, family breakdown, job loss and jobs that simply don’t pay enough for people to survive on. They want us to know and hopefully do something about it. Things weren’t always this way and unfortunately, to the young, this way of life has been normalized. Your comment, Rajiv, “It is indeed sad, in my humble view, a country that seeks to progress cannot take all, or most, of its citizens along with it.” says it all, because our countries can and must do something for these people. Our efforts to afford them a little dignity may well be most disheartening to them. To walk by without acknowledging their existence is a worse condition.

    1. What you say is true… Coming to the climatic conditions, don’t assume that our climate is accommodating. Cold is what you have. What we have, in the North, is burning heat and the loo. I remember being affected by the loo many years back. I drank 5 litres of water in less than 30 minutes just to avoid being carted off due to dehydration. The loo is a hot, dry wind that is harsh.

      I agree with what you say about their stories. this is true, and I must thank you for pointing it out

      1. I never heard of the loo, Rajiv. Dehydration would be a big problem. We are having high heat alerts here too. They have cooling stations where they provide AC and water for those who need it.

  5. Rajiv – you are so right that this subject must be approached with compassion for the person—not just the idea of a good photograph. I do see homeless in NY & I am guilty of usually looking away because I know there is nothing I can do for them.

  6. Those who come to India find it very amusing, pity, shame on seeing poor people begging for a bread.. They are often too generous to provide help but this problem has become a menace now.. Clicking beggars doesn’t help them at all.. Everyone is waiting for a magic wand only

  7. Very Good, and very well written post, my Dear Rajiv. …Only thing. Many of Us have the Impression that Nothing can be done to rectify such situations. Sivananda Ashram and Mother Teresa’s kind of places do a lot for this. More of that has to happen of course. But Public Opinion has to be created. Each and Every Individual can contribute, and I do not mean money. Let Us Think about it and Talk about it, and Bring about Change! Thank You for the post. Regards. 🙂

  8. I always feel uncomfortable taking anyone’s picture without their consent. But, sometimes the photo op is just too great and with a telephoto lens, you can be discreet… But I understand exactly what you’re saying. I work at a homeless shelter on my day off.

    1. I lived in Calcutta for 2 years, and I studied engineering at Kharagpur, so I remember that region well.

      Discretion is key, as is trying to preserve their dignity

      Kudos to you and the work you do

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