face of homelessness

December 28, 2009, Deer Park: Michelle Tingle and her son Zuriel Mason, 9, have been living in a homeless shelter in Deer Park since February. Newsday photograph by Mahala Gaylord

I took this photo for Newsday for an article about the rise of homelessness on the Island and how shelters are unable to handle the new high numbers of people in need of a place to stay. Contact was made with a woman who is homeless and willing to be photographed. I went to the shelter where she and her son are staying and made a portrait. (above) The newspaper was all set to run this picture A1 with the story, but upon receiving the photo from me, and seeing that she was black, they decided not to run it on the front. They cropped it down and stuck it a couple pages back in the paper. WHY? because the paper didn't want to portray the face of homelessness on Long Island as being black. How do you feel about this?

Is it right to NOT use someone's photo because they are a minority? Normally the paper is pushing photographers to find people of color or ethnicity to put in the paper. But this time things about-faced very quickly.  I felt put off when I saw what they did with the picture. But I'm not sure if my feelings are stemming from the fact that I took a cool portrait and they cropped it and shrank it and stuffed it on the inside of the paper.

Would most people be angry to see a black homeless person on the front of their newspaper as a picture portraying homelessness in their area? Would they feel that the newspaper was making a statement about homelessness that was not neutral? I feel that the newspaper's not using the picture was also a statement. A statement that they're worried about what people think of the paper, that they fear they are not a neutral news source. As you can see by my rambling statements above, I'm not sure how I feel, or what decision I would have made were I in charge. I'd love some feedback

1 comment:

  1. I can see how you'd be miffed as a photog, but I can also see the logic to the paper's decision. If they did run that photo on the front I wouldn't be surprised if they later received criticism for playing into stereotypes or for even promoting a negative image of blacks (or african-americans if you prefer that term) or minorities in general. I'm not saying these complaints would be well-founded but I can foresee that backlash.

    I think as a photographer you did your job perfectly, and while it is still a shame that a photograph can't simply be taken at face value --i.e. this homeless family is black--and not be subject to countless interpretations--"all homeless people are black" or "Newsday doesn't like black people"--this photo is well constructed regardless of the politics read into it.

    Newsday has to cover their bases, and it is difficult to finger them for being cognizant of the reactions their readership may have. At this point in time for newspapers they unfortunately either need to be as vanilla as possible in order to keep their readers, or as niche as possible in order to gain new ones. I think that while this issue hits close to home for you, in the grander scale of things it is less important than it seems now.

    It sucks that your photo was cropped and that it didn't get the play it seems it deserves, but overall the work put forth is still (hopefully) helping raise awareness of homelessness in Long Island and that is what is important not to lose sight of.