Gerald M. Panter

Photography

 

Hollywood Boulevard – Street Life

This ongoing project, now in its fifth year, documents those homeless, disenfranchised and down and out people for whom street life is the only life they know. It confines its geographic scope to that star-studded section of Hollywood Boulevard between LaBrea Avenue and Gower Street, roamed by these marginal people to whom attention is seldom paid.

 

They fall essentially into two groups.

 

One group, the “regulars,” is comprised of those middle aged and older men and women who daily aimlessly wander up and down the boulevard, usually lost in their own thoughts, many gesturing and/or talking to an imaginary listener. They shun contact and are loath to acknowledge others, much less engage in conversation. The majority of them stop only to search trash receptacles along the way, looking for recyclable plastic or discarded food and drink.

 

The other group, the “travelers,” consists of youths who make the boulevard a temporary stop off on their search for better times and places. Whether they stay for a few days or weeks and then are seen no more or whether they leave and return months later, they rely on hand outs from tourists and food from charitable organizations – the kindness of strangers.

 

I recognized early on that there was a reluctance on the part of both the regulars and travelers to being photographed. Whether due to suspicion, fear of what use would be made of the photographs or just a desire to simply be left alone, that reluctance presented a problem, since I wanted my photographs to be more than mere surreptitious “grab shots” taken from a safe distance.

 

Mindful of Robert Capa’s admonition that “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” for the first several weeks, I walked the boulevard, my clearly-visible camera slung over my shoulder. Over time, my now-familiar presence, together with my friendly but modest greetings and non-judgmental demeanor had the desired effect. I gradually learned how to best approach, talk to and, eventually, get the cooperation I sought. My camera could now be openly employed and my subjects were less reticent, more trusting and approachable – I was able to get closer.

 

I was surprised by how articulate and friendly many of the people were, once they felt comfortable with me; with only few exceptions, they were agreeable to being photographed by me and quite a few even volunteered to be photographed without my having to ask.

 

Since I wanted my photographs to be candid in the true sense of the word, none of my photographs were staged and, if people posed, it was a pose of their own choosing. Portraying the spirit and humanity of my subjects in an honest, yet artistic, way was my objective. Consistent with that objective, in captioning the photographs, I simply noted the person’s name and the address on Hollywood Boulevard where the photograph was taken. No editorial comments were supplied; I let the photographs do what photographs are designed to do.

 

Hollywood Boulevard is the most well known and mythically famous street in Los Angeles. However, the glamor, glitz and excitement portrayed in the flood of postcards sent around the world for over half a century are gone. Efforts to revitalize the boulevard increasingly affect both the “regulars” and the “travelers.” Ignored by tourists, shunned by shop owners and rousted by the police and the merchant-funded security force, the street people’s once safe haven is under attack. Based on what I’ve seen during the years I’ve been engaged in this project, their numbers are steadily decreasing.

 

In focusing on a clearly-defined group within a clearly-circumscribed area, my project follows a well-recognized tradition, joining such seminal studies as Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street, Danny Lyon’s The Bikeriders, Louis Faurer’s portrayal of street life in Philadelphia and Mary Ellen Mark’s Streetwise.

 

This project, the first extensive documentation of the street people on Hollywood Boulevard, might not generate public outcry (as reaction to John Thompson’s photographs of London’s slums in the 19th century or Jacob Riis’ and Lewis Hine’s work in the 20th century). But it does call attention to an often avoided or ignored segment of society and presents an honest and disturbing picture of a disenfranchised class clearly in need of understanding and help.

 

I play the street life

Because there’s no place I can go

Street life

It’s the only life I know

 

“Street Life” Randy Crawford

 

© 2005-2014 G.M. Panter.  All rights reserved.