When I took a photo of Michael, aka “Dreadlock Mike” a few years before he was murdered by a hit and run driver – I asked him for permission, because I knew how impactful his photo would be in my life. What I mean is not so much the photograph itself. It is the connectivity we have with each other in all our conditions as humans.
I’d seen Michael around the streets plenty over a decade or more, and he had come to recognize me as well. I had changed from being employed at Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan (roughly 1986 – 2004), to taking up being a freelance photographer, and subsequently from 2011 known more as a community activist. I was fascinated by a photographer’s exhibition at the Russell Industrial Center which contained a lot of photos of Michael, this was after taking this single photo. I suppose my fascination was that I had a barrier to cross for a single photo, and I was encircled by many.
Not long after going into photography (2005) I saw the website Lightstalking.org and became engaged reading about photographers working in so many ways helped me immensely. There were war correspondents, fashion photographers, and so much more connecting through the site. It seemed many were traveling from place to place and connecting through the site for a temporary place to stay while on assignment. You might imagine the perks of coachsurfing to stay with another person sharing your passion and having equipment they might offer use of on the trip. Additionally you get localized during the stay and that can carry so much depth into the photos taken when you are familiar with the issues.
A photographer contact shared this post “Let’s Think a Little Deeper Before Photographing the Homeless” from the website Lightstalker.com. I admit to being tripped by the similar name for the blog and Lightstalking community website.
Lessons from Occupy Detroit
When I wrote the following blog post September 20, 2012 at Occupy This Blog I used the photograph of Michael above:
There are so many issues being faced by Detroit and it seems everyone wants to offer advice into the situation. It gets rather difficult to understand the stands around the issues until you look at the level of personal investment and capability of support had by those speaking and taking a stand.
Who Holds An Invested Interest?
- City of Detroit residents
- Workers in the city
- Metropolitan are residents
- Workers in metropolitan Detroit
- Employers in the city
- Employers in the metro area
- People that formerly worked in Detroit or in the metro area
- People considering coming to Detroit or the metro area
- People who may invest in Detroit’s future in some manner
- Curious bystanders – oddly this may be one of the largest populations if you follow comment posts made about Detroit that somehow seem to think it should be removed from the face of the planet
I think that covers just about all the angles, and I’ll say that the weight of personal investment runs highest from the top of the list to the bottom. Those that are at the top of the list quite often have a tough time hearing solutions from people with what is perceived to be a lessor personal investment. That’s common in every community – those impacted directly are undeniably affected the most.
How To Occupy And Support?
Every position has the ability to learn through listening prior to (or while) proposing solutions to issues. Sometimes it will seem like a lot of venting going on with little solution. People just want to see change happen and positive results, be that in the removal of issues or growth of opportunities. Personal accounts can be valuable lessons to those whom haven’t had to deal with them.
For example, today I was in a meeting regarding public transportation and we had several handicapped members attending. I mentioned that many of us don’t personally encounter the difficulty these people do daily until we “break a foot”, then we experience it for a brief spell and can go back to how we’ve known access. We have to consider with some handicap situations there is no “brief time” in the concerns raised. Things won’t just get better unless we do something that makes it better for us. In doing that for ourselves, are we then making it more difficult for others or improving for everyone?
Coming up with a least common denominator (LCD) solution is going to be the answer, however even that can be troubling or difficult to implement. Moderating a discussion to find that LCD can be difficult with a wide number of personal encounters and opinions. This is where consensus building enters and that is one area Occupy movements have championed worldwide. Everyone has a stake in creating a position and taking actions on it that unify.
Can A Revolution Be Consented?
One of the concerns is that radical measures may be tough to get passed by consensus. We may be able to inspire a revolution, but personal risks and encounters can stand in the way of being in the active wave of revolution. It takes radical and passionate action that sometimes sees the consequences and is willing to accept that being revolutionary is dangerous. Those that see they can’t take the risks may choose to stand aside or offer support with limited involvement. All of these positions are helpful and needed for revolutionary action and should not be discounted. They are a reflection of personal investment in the situation and may end up changing the allies in your life as you mount an assault on society’s standards.
I’d like to ask people reading to support the world you’d like to see and be as active as you possibly can. You’ll meet people along the way, listen to new ideas, hear testimony, and hopefully be able to offer testimony yourself providing encouragement.
Becoming The Change Desired
I wrote the above two and a half years ago and the conditions at the time – Emergency Manager and Detroit Bankruptcy – have passed, but the impact of these hasn’t changed what intended above. I can say that I’ve been going through personal evolution myself and seeing the power of full and complete dialogue.
Living As a Peace Maker
The only way to get to complete dialogues is through healing and consciousness. We have to connect with the essence of human life in its individual experiences – being mindful that each of us has had encounters that shape the reality we are living. There’s going to be a lot of hurt and denial. Some dialogues bring up pain that we end up healing over and over. Even the notion of going through that path again leads to stress. We avoid confrontation with stress as much as we can. We bond with and circle our selves with those whom we’ve had the most healing and find unity of perspective with.
There’s a problem that happens when highly active people and their communities push back and deny confronting difficult dialogues in our lives. The potential for great work to be done starts to limit how it can occur. The willingness and conditions we place on making progress take on monumental proportions because community acceptance is integral to the respect we carry. This is why consciousness raising for communities is critical and the ability to continue to accept and respect outlying perspectives from community members as a path for evolution.
Consulting “the Elders”
Quite often acceptance has to be sought from elders in the community, those whom we honor with wisdom from their experience of perspectives changing through life and it’s encounters. Those with many encounters and great variations in perspective truly do carry wisdom and age can be inconsequential.
Community status is carried and the gateways for acceptance can be guarded by the elders. You can risk much when proving something outside what is accepted.
I’m going to leave “the chase down the rabbit hole” for another series of posts on consciousness. Bringing this post full circle back to responsibility as a photographer.
Overstepping The Triggers For Social Concern
There will be times that a photographer oversteps the boundaries which society finds comforting. Photographing the homeless, destitute, least privileged, our youth, our elders, the infirm, and those dying or dead – these are triggers for societal concerns. I can even say there are lifestyle choices that are hard to photograph. Some will ask why didn’t the photographer move from observing to being involved. Finding consent sometimes isn’t just with the subject or society, it rests in the photographer’s psyche. As a photographer, my experience is that we carve out what we are comfortable with and how we work with that subject material. Our perceptions are also evolving and that may influence our comfort as well. Some photographs bring thoughts that trigger self-healing and the journey of life – they can raise our consciousness. This can also happen communally.