Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

You don’t see the homeless

Anthony Hernandez has been photographing Los Angeles for a number of years but the glamorous and the glitzy, so often associated with a city named after celestial beings, do not feature in his work.

 

Forever-cover-finalSean Sheehan

 

There are no angels in the sky for Hernandez to photograph and any annunciations in “Forever”, a set of images set in what Hernandez calls the ‘homeless capital of America’, are difficult to discern.

The homeless do not usually impinge on the lives of people with fixed addresses; most of the time the homeless are invisible. A slumped figure on a pavement, a human outline under a dirty blanket in a shop entrance – we pass by, avoiding eye contact and the effort of imagination it takes to empathise with their condition.

Fernandez’s camera is as itinerant as the homeless citizens who invisibly inhabit particular sites close to downtown Los Angeles.

It pauses to capture nooks they haunt but the people themselves do not appear. They have drifted away, like ghosts who leave a sense of presence but are not physically seen; and like ghosts their manifestations are a sign of something troubling, in this case a social dysfunction infecting the heart of the American dream.

Forever_26The photographs are all taken from sites where people have actually slept but the standard kind of documentary approach is not adopted:

“Instead of looking down into the evidence of homelessness—a bed, cooking items—I’m now in that bed with my tripod laying flat down, seeing what they might have seen. If there’s a chair in the site, I’m sitting in that chair. They’re all taken with longer lenses, 120 mm or 200 mm or 500 mm. They’re all square, and many are very abstract.”

The result is a combination of the serial and the sundry: a small array of coins on a pavement, pieces of bread, fenced-in empty lots, zones of brick and concrete, bare walls, dead end places exhibiting patterns that won’t be noticed unless you sit or lay in the same spot, reflecting at length on what stares back at you in supreme indifference.

The aesthetic is an austere one but because of this it avoids sentimentality and a too-easy indulgence that lazily satisfies the soft centre of the liberal’s gaze.

The specific surface of things – walls, fences, a drainpipe , a cardboard tent, a gate – are adhered to and it is left to the reader of these images to get behind the formality.

Forever_43Each image occupies one page of Forever and the facing page is a white blank, as if left there for the viewer to imagine the freeway traffic passing by and the homeless person who contemplated the scene caught by Hernandez’s camera.

There are no captions or titles, no page numbers and only a short essay at the end of the book, by his wife Judith Freeman, gives some indication of the absences being photographed: ‘these pictures’, she says, ‘are like performance pieces. He is lying in their beds, sitting in their seats, looking…’.  Looking for angels.

“Forever” is published by MACK.

 

 

 

 

 

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