Should I Photograph Homeless People?


Maybe a better question is, are photographs of homeless people considered Street Photography?  There have been a few articles floating around the Google machine by angry photographers letting us know they are sick of photographs of homeless people.  In fact, its been called rude and creepy by some [Vice].  Street Photography,  “…features the human condition within public places…”.  There is nothing in the definition of Street Photography that says the images have to give you warm and fuzzy feelings in your little belly.

When someone tells you not to photograph homeless people or never photograph someone without their permission (dumb) its usually because of their fear of doing that same thing.  They are afraid of the confrontation that could ensue if a stranger catches them taking their photograph or they are afraid a homeless person will lash out at them.  Don’t let other people’s fears limit you.



So why are some artists against photographing homeless people?  For one, it’s uncomfortable.  Looking at photographs of homeless people on your comfortable couch with your expensive laptop can feel a little crummy.  Isn’t that the point though?  Nobody bats an eye when they see the commercials on television for recently abused sick cats and dogs dramatized by some sad music.  But we draw the line at documenting the more depressing aspect of the human condition?

Rant:  Some of the recent photographs getting heralded as “incredible” by the major publications are of starving children in third world countries… but don’t worry, it’s alright to photograph them because they have homes.  

Does the photography make a difference?  Yes.  The most recent report from The National Alliance To End Homelessness says that in 2014;

overall homelessness decreased by 3.7 percent and homelessness decreased among every major subpopulation— families (7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (7.3 percent), and veterans (7.3 percent).

That’s some pretty good news if you ask me.  [National Alliance To End Homelessness]

A combination of public and private funding goes into the fight against homelessness.  Our images, no matter how difficult they are to view, play a large role in moving people to step up and fight against homelessness, or any cause for that matter.

Is it Art?

Is Street Photography art?  Yes.  Photographs of homeless people is Street Photography so yes, it’s art.  You can’t say Street Photography is art and then deny certain aspects of it because of the uncomfortable nature.  With that being said, there are still going to be bad artists…  People who suck at photographing people.  People whose intentions are not pure and they desire to exploit mankind instead of help it.  That does not mean it’s not art, it’s just crappy art.

Some Things To Consider

Homeless photography can be beautiful and, in some cases, can be something that actually helps a person on a personal level.  Take for instance Steve Huff and his “My Homeless Project“, this was an incredible piece of Street Photography art that will not only be significant to the artist but also to the people whose lives he touched in the brief time he spent with them.

If you decide that you’d like to spend some time documenting homeless people and their struggles do so in a respectful way.  Simply walking up to a homeless person and pushing your camera into their face is not polite, give them the same respect you’d give anyone else (or better yet, the respect you’d want if you were in the same situation).  Also, offer them some food, a conversation, money, and/or a blanket…  Make a difference in their life.

What are you thoughts?  Should people stop photographing homeless people?  Leave a comment below.


  • Nice post, i can’t really decide what i think.. i’ve taken photos of homeless but never posted them.
    What do you think about selling photos of homeless? or sending them in to competitions?
    Regards / Mathias

    • John Barbiaux says:

      Mathias, great question! I can’t really speak for you but I’ll tell you how I typically consider this… If the photograph in question is one that makes fun of or in some way degrades the person I wouldn’t post or share it in any way. If it is a photograph where you believe it captures their beauty and helps people to see that less fortunate people are still human beings then I’d say your heart is in the right place and go for it. You’ll always run up against people who may give you a hard time but nobody can really tell you what you felt when you took the image or that your intentions aren’t good. At the end of the day, put yourself in your subjects shoes and ask yourself if you were them would you mind that photo being shared with the world. Only you can answer that… And incidentally prevent forest fires (if you have not seen those old commercials that will make no sense. If you had you may laugh!). Hope that helps.

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