The problem with sneaking photos of the homeless

North of Georgetown University is a lively college town called… Georgetown. At first glance, it looks like the ideal college/tourist town. Shops filled from floor to ceiling with nick knacks, fit snugly between numerous trendy restaurants and designer brand clothes stores. The town even has the nation’s attention for its cupcake stores: Sprinkles Cupcakes and Georgetown Cupcake.

But if we pause to peek around the tasty and colorful cupcakes, glance past the shiny glass display windows and squint through the glamor of the thriving city, we see the truth.

Georgetown has a struggling side, too.

The homeless line the streets, holding plastic cups out to the shopping public. Despite the incredible number of pedestrians, the cups are practically empty. Tourists and college students walk briskly past the many sufferers, looking every direction but the cups. This reaction is not unique for busy cities, where the homeless are numerous.

They are practically ignored by the general public. On the occasion that a tourist or student does come out of the blind ignorance, and finally notices the impoverished, he/she does nothing. Some people even try to sneak pictures of the homeless when they aren’t looking, as if the poverty-stricken population are all mentally unstable, and would attack on sight.

When my friends and I approached one of the homeless, it was quite the opposite. The banjo-playing man was very polite and civil, even more so than some of the tourists roaming the sidewalks.

“I hate when people take a picture [of me] without asking” he said. “It’s like ‘I can see you [taking a picture of me]!’”

After my conversation with him, I feel very different about Georgetown. It’s not the fact that the homeless are ignored, as they are in every city, though that is very sad. It’s the fact that people try to take secret pictures. This is so wrong to me on several levels.

First off, I find this action more rude than simply ignoring the impoverished. The action of taking (or trying to) take a secret picture of some one suffering screams ‘I see you suffering, but I don’t care enough to help.’  By taking a picture, you are ACKNOWLEDGING THEIR EXISTENCE. If you try to take a secret picture, you are saying that you realize they are there, but you don’t want them to know that you see them because you don’t want to face the guilt of refusing them necessary help to their face. Ideally, the photographer will give the impoverished money, but if they can’t, at least avoid giving off the impression that they aren’t worth your full attention.

The idea of secret photo taking also angers me because it represents a total disregard for privacy. By at least asking if a photo is permissible, the photographer is projecting the idea of ‘I respect your privacy, because you are a person and you still have basic rights.’ Any one who just snaps photos away of strangers without their permission is invading the privacy of their subject, which he/she has a basic human right to. Taking pictures of the homeless without their permission can give off the impression that you see them as something less than human.

No matter what image you end up projecting, taking a picture of the homeless is rude and disrespectful.