#16 – Characters I Encounter – The Action Sport of People Watching

As a photographer, one of my favorite things to do is sit in a nice coffee shop somewhere, drink a cup of Joe and engage in some serious people watching. Now i don’t like to stare rudely nor will you find me judging everyone that walks by with those connotative eyes that often glare at you from across one of the 8 corners per square mile that have a Starbucks . I am looking for patterns in human interactions, making predictions of what a person might do next to see if these patterns turn out to be true. I also look at people to see if i can form certain types of groupings of facial characteristics and looks. Not just race but how generic a face is vs. some of the more rare and exotic looks.

I’ve narrowed it down to about 15 different types of facial feature ratios. I’m sure there is more but i’m not going to make it to complicated on myself :) You get the point. I just like to make mental notes of things such as people who wear nicer clothing often walk faster than those who are dressed casually. That one’s pretty self explanatory because the more formally dressed person is likely on their way to a scheduled appointment of some sort. Or the differences in non-verbal communication from someone who bites their nails and someone who doesn’t. Those who do often make less eye contact and seem to be more nervous as a whole in their interpersonal interactions. The thing i get the most of by doing this, is an appreciation for diversity.You watch people laugh, express love, help one another and also when you see people trip, step in a puddle, drop their phone you can relate to their emotions in that situation. Overall i feel as though it improves my connection with the world around me.

When I find someone that is unique or out of place in some way, i am not afraid to ask them to let me take a picture. I’ve come to find out it’s about how you ask that makes all the difference. Of course you don’t want to offend someone making them feel like  an oddity that needs documentation but express to them your intentions and personally, i tell them what inspired me about them to take a picture, which is almost always positive. Here are a couple characters who were nice enough to have their picture taken, and one that i don’t think cared nor knew i was present. When i do slip one in when their not watching it can get you a shot you want, but if caught by someone who does not enjoy having their picture taken, it can get unfriendly rather quickly.

The first shot on this list was taken with the camera by my side walking by this woman who seemed to be living on another planet at the time. I didn’t  think she would have minded if i pointed it right at her but the shot came out awesome and was very popular at my recent show.

The Smoking Hipster-ess

Punk Guy - San Francisco, CA

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#8 – Santa Claus begging back ….

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Santa Claus begging back ....

No darling, that’s not Santa.

This is a long one folks … but educational at times :)

Quite the opposite to be honest. As someone who lives in one of the most popular cities for drifters making their way along the Californian coast, some even taking up long-term residency along the beach and in parks, which are open to the general people. Whatever you do, rent your books at the library on a day that its not raining. The smell of “the public” “reading” at the tables mixed with the smell of 1000’s of old books is rather interesting to say the least. in Santa Barbara, the homeless can go into any public area as long as they are not causing a disturbance. Sleeping is not allowed in the library, but watching the techniques that those seeking shelter use to make it appear as though they are not, are a lesson to any youngster trying to catch up on sleep during history class. Now to be honest i have some mixed emotions when it comes to the homeless population. First and foremost, i don’t look at homeless the way some people do. Like animals. OPEN YOUR EYES. These are human beings, some with mental disorders, others, veterans unable to work, and ex businessmen who lost it all making a risky investment. You really can’t know until you actually listen to them rather than telling them to get out of the way. You might even learn a thing or 2.

There are 2 parking lots by my work, right across the street from the beach. Each has a resident “guy in a van” who has struck a deal to be able to park there on a permanent basis, often in exchange for watching the parking lots to prevent beach-goers from snagging valuable customer’s spaces. These guys look happy, healthy and almost have a smirk on their face making me think they have figured out some way to get through life just a little easier than the Wall Street working family man who dies at 47 due to a hard attack. Although i believe there is a balance, these folks have chosen one extreme. One the guys, Danny, is an incredible artist. He has done multiple large pieces on the “legal graffiti walls” which are on the side of a Downtown building, whose owner allows artists to paint large sheets of plywood and hang them up covering large sections of what used to be windows,but only after removing the work of another artist. Respectful graffiti. The kind that should be supported more as the fine art it is. Danny also greets with a smile and a wave as i pass by, usually beginning to work on some new masterpiece by 9am. One of the coolest ideas he had was to paint over the glass cube windows which intersect with white lines creating a cage like pattern. He filled in the crack silver and painted animals peaking out of the “enclosures”.

The other guy in lot number 2 says he’s a film student but i think he may be a professional dreamer. He’s a great guy, always showered by using a couple bucks a month of our taxpayer dollar to get himself gym membership that includes a full bathroom facility. Smart eh? He said he’s also going back to school at city college and if you peak inside the van, there is actually a computer, tv and bed. Unexpected from the van like object that it is. You can spot him at almost any SB event, camera in hand filming and filming and filming some more. Who knows maybe he’s a bigwig filmmaker living life on the streets for a new movie, missing his family due to the long undercover project he began. Or not.
In contrast, if you go into chase Palm Park or anywhere along the strip of palm trees towards east beach, you find yourself the drunken, rugged and sun charred folks who enjoy slurring obscenities at those who jog by often objectivity a woman or 2 followed by coughs and grunt, even the occasional vomiting.Real pleasant stuff. I asked a few of them once what happened that they now life on the beach and 3 out of 4 answered somewhere along the lines of ” Fuck Society i just want to kick it man” or “I’m on unemployment”. Arent you still supposed to be proving that you are trying to get a job ? Sitting on the beach drinking beer may be your dream job but it doesn’t make you any money, and one way or another those who work, even though we hate it at times, end up paying for everything from their emergency visits to cigarettes. They can get 2 (maybe even 3, not positive) meals a day at the rescue mission. Places to sleep. No real hassle from police, and except a few nights a week in the winter it doesn’t get too cold around here.

This town has always been friendly to the homeless. Santa Barabara was THE destination for anyone hitch hiking around in the hippy days, before it became illegal. Many would stop at North Americas biggest Montego Bay Fig Tree and hang out, make music, do drugs and just have a good time (I talked a little more about the fig tree in another post, Awesome tree). The property that the Santa Barbara zoo is now built on was formerly owned by the Chiles Family. Back then it was known around town as :”The Hobo Jungle In the 1950s they gave the land to the Santa Barbara foundation but wrote in the deed that none of the homeless people could be removed. This was a problem because they were about 100 hobos that had lived on the land, in a self-governed community. The Chiles family allowed them all to live there, many of them victims of the stock market crash and slow economic growth. The city then had to wait another 8 years and by not letting on any new drifters, the ones left slowly cleared out until there was only 3 left. So thats where the built the Lion Cage. Solved 2 problems at once, Lions fed and Homeless gone. Just kidding. The few that remained got extremely lucky because the city actually ended up building them small cottages close to where the zoo is still today, just opposite the Andrea Clark Bird refuge. True Story. Now we have a beautiful zoo, but by no means got rid of the homeless, and it looks like they aren’t going anywhere soon. Why would they. I love Santa Barbara too.

So… all in all as long as they do not verbally harass me for anything that isn’t glued to my body I’m completely OK with homeless people, whether they have chosen to be, society forced them to or they are just going through a rough patch in life. There is actually a law in the city that peddlers cannot verbally ask for money. It’s a mutual respect thing. I often just respond with a smile and a nod. Because … I don’t feel as though i need to say “Sorry i don’t” Why do i need to apologize for not having extra money that i can just give away. Even though i may be coming out of a supermarket doesn’t mean that im not about to overdraft on my debit card. The city has also tried other deterrents. One of the ideas was to turn all the benches on state street 90% therefor they would face each other not the store fronts. Luckily this $50,000 project did not come to be, probably due to the realization that a person can rotate their body 90 degrees, once again facing towards the customers. It’s been proven over and over. Lots of tourism = lots of homeless. So for now enjoy the targets set up next to the pier for you to throw coins down at and appreciate the drummer who sets up his entire kit summer afternoons and shows off his incredible talents. My favorites are the performers, winning in that category is the $1 Backflip guy who will run up a wall matrix-style and do a back flip off of it. Well worth the buck.

The photo was taken in Venice Beach, CA, a city where the homeless community has drawn visitors from around the world to experience the funkiness and variety of characters able to be seen. This gentleman seemed to resemble Santa Claus with his bright red shirt and in a perfect world, bags full of goodies for the children. Sadly it’s likely a collection of cans, scraped together in hopes of making a couple bucks to get by.