I’d just walked across the ‘wobbly bridge’ (Millennium Bridge) from St Pauls, when this scene caught my eye – a moment that within five seconds of seeing it became digitally captured for eternity.
I knew immediately that the image had a story of sorts to tell, but I didn’t dwell to consider it any further. I was on my way rather hastily to complete the Trafalgar Square – St Paul’s – Tate Modern – Tower Bridge – Tower of London – Millennium Bridge – South Bank figure-of-eight, and it was not until the following day that I looked at the photograph again.
As I unpacked the ‘story’ that my mind had caught in an instant, I knew that the ‘story’ the picture tells would be largely plausible speculation on my part.
The man sitting in front of you is homeless and he’s sitting there – as he probably has done regularly in very recent times - as people from all nations pass him by.
I’m interested that the homeless man’s silhouette almost mimics the outline of St Paul’s Cathedral, that sits directly opposite with some permanence, as history records that it has for the past 350 or so years.
The man dressed in a perishable coat, the cathedral dressed in stone.
Separated by the magnificent River Thames the banks are joined by the wobbly bridge, but there’s no apparent connection between the homeless man and St Paul’s.
Both sit there each dependent upon the offerings from the passing world for their upkeep.
The homeless man can easily see St Paul’s, but I doubt that ‘St Paul’s’ can easily see the homeless man.
This is merely an observation and I make no judgements. I understand St Paul’s does a lot to help the poor. I have taken it at at face value – from the sign in front of the man – that he is, in fact, homeless; to me he looks it, and probably isn’t an actor taking part in a social experiment.
Photographs can be powerful, and in spite of their accuracy in recording scenes 'a photographic image is true and false in equal measure' – to quote from the introduction to The Genius of Photography, by Gerry Badger.
Georges Braque puts it succinctly and soberingly: "Truth exists; only falsehood needs to be invented." Although, in most, if not all, cases, I think a kind of falsehood already exists in everything we observe, because we observe every situation based on our perspective, experiences and prejudices. We are not omnipresent or omniscient or truly unbiased.
Context and perspective play enormous roles in understanding or manipulating the 'truth' conveyed through a photograph.
I enjoy looking at images and really try to understand what is going on. Of course, in the absence of verification, I’m just observing and asking questions, while trying to keep an open mind.
I take away from this that it’s always good to:
I also find that with some images rendering them tonally in black & white helps to balance some of the otherwise competing elements.
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