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Friday, January 30, 2015






Anonymous said...

He's staring at you, isn't he? Did he speak with you? Or did you say anything to him?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

This was on busy Market Street, with lots of people walking around. When I saw him lying perfectly still with his eyes closed, I stood a few feet away, with my back turned, and set up my camera to get the ISO, shutter speed and aperture right. In this part of the city, there are often tourists, so it's no big deal to have a big camera, unlike if I was in Kensington or in Camden. Finally, when there was no one walking around, I snapped him using my view finder, so the camera was not at my face, and it only took about two seconds to focus and shoot, then I walked away. As I was rushing and focused on what I was doing, I didn't see that his eyes had just opened that very second. Plus, they were in the shadow. Like I said, he was lying there with his eyes closed while a hundred of people walked by every couple of minutes, so I assumed, wrongly, that he was sleeping, but then again, homeless people on sidewalks rarely sleep very soundly.

For comparison, look at this image, taken a block away, where I talked to the mother and gave her some money, or this image, taken on the exact same block, where I also didn't say anything to the man. First of, I didn’t want him to interrupt what he was doing, which was reaching out to people as he begged, and secondly, he seemed fairly out of it, so I knew he was rather oblivious to my presence.

With street photography, you’re going to sneak photos, but the trick is not to offend anyone. In Robert Frank’s image of a black couple in San Francisco, he’s at least alarming the man, but then it’s a very memorable image, and Garry Winnogrand’s kissing couple is even more striking, and here the photographer’s clearly crossed the line, but his decision to do so had to be made instantly, and when a photographer sees something he must capture, all social niceties are forgotten. Going way beyond the rudeness of street photography are the images taken of prone, bleeding or naked victims in war, or images of terrified civilians taken by an imbedded photographer as he follows the troops into a raided house. To the terrified, beaten or shot victims inside their homes, the photographer is clearly also an invader and violator, though he may justifies himself as bearing witness. He’s of the same race and nationality as the soldiers, and they’re all getting paid, though none of them belongs there.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful answer, Linh. I just felt that the image you took was so powerful, with him asking us difficult questions for which we have no answers to.

I smiled when you said "you're going to sneak photos." I was in a public area once, just sitting and waiting, when I saw a group of people come to that same area, all armed with cameras. I noticed one guy looking forward, but with his camera pointed toward me. I was staring at him. It was a funny moment to me.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

Andrew Cox asked me during an 2011 interview:

Do you ask for permission before you photograph anyone? Do you explain what you are using the images for and if so, what is a typical reaction?

If I can get away with sneaking a photo, I’ll do that. Generally speaking, I don’t want my subjects to pose or even be aware of my presence, but since I carry a large camera, this is not always possible.

From each photo, you can generally tell whether I’ve engaged my subject. Sometimes I offer people a bit of money, usually just a buck or two, to take their photos. I gave $10 to a Camden woman, however, so she could buy cans of Sterno for her tent.

In Detroit, I also gave an old man 10 bucks because he was in such bad shape. He said he needed this money for a prescription. Whenever I visited the tent city in Camden, New Jersey, I’d bring 24 large cans of beer, though I’d end up drinking three or four myself. I’ve also bought food for the homeless.

When I talk to people on the streets, I do tell them I’m writing about the economy. Most know full well the economy is in horrible shape and will get even worse, and most of them don’t mind talking to me about their dire situations.

Once, I saw a young woman who was raving and extremely dirty, she even smelled of urine, but as soon as I talked to her, she became sane and radiant. Not to exaggerate but she became shockingly beautiful. I bought her something to drink and lent her my cell phone so she could call a friend in Baltimore to pick her up in Philadelphia.

As an artist, you’re always a kind of vulture when you’re around people, you’re always trying to make use of what they say, how they look or who they are, and since art is always subjective, a kind of distortion, you’re always deforming people to suit your purposes. Although art is always, in this sense, an exploitation, it is also a kind of tribute, and hence, of love. Sometimes I can barely stand how magnificent and beautiful people are.


Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful line at the end.

Chuck Olroski said...


This photo naturally appealed to me, and although the guy might tell me "fuck off old man," I'd sincerely rather be alongside him instead of at a Super Bowl Party.

If you have time, please consider online search of "Koch Brothers Exposed" and watch the You Tube movie done by "Brave New Films"? The film's quite enlightening, tells how Mighty Right Wing Charles and David Koch desire to resuscitate "End Times" America, like the guy in your picture, and make "dead-enders" pass Drug & Alcohol tests drug before getting welfare checks.

The 1% political darkness is stealthily brought into every American home in Living Color. Thank you for sneaking photos and offending the Supreme Court's 2010 fascist decision in, "Citizens United."

Dear Anonymous: The other day, I was in bad fucking mood, mad at my self-engineered fate, lashing-out at the snow. So please forgive my pissy fit, and having taunted your preference to be "Anonymous Citizens United"? As George Kennan anonymously wrote the famed Soviet "Containment" doctrine as Mr. X., there's a special place for you to collaborate in Linh's Average Joe-mission, The War Against Rich Man Containment.

X said...

Hey Chuck, no worries, I did not take offense. I'll actually just call myself "X" from now on, to differentiate myself from the other anonymous folks here.


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.