In the United States, the wealthiest country on earth, the poor, the hungry and the homeless must live in the shadows. They are nameless, faceless and literally don’t have a place to be in the American dream. In a society driven by possessions and consumption the appearance of people in need provokes and threatens.
Sidewalk Stories give us an opportunity to see the homeless in the brightness of a makeshift studio, apart from our projections of pity, resentment or fear. Through Salvo Galano’s camera and compassion the mysterious homeless who frequent the soup kitchen of the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City are revealed and celebrated. Separated from their life circumstances by a simple photographer’s backdrop their essence, love and beauty are exposed.
The photographs in this book provide a new vision of the homeless. In a departure from traditional photo essays of the homeless, Salvo doesn’t hunt for the “other” – pathos, perversion and distance. Instead he discards the distinction between “us and them”. His photographs move us to experience the humanity of homeless men and women who exist in a society that unconsciously, but desperately, wants to deny their existence.
As Salvo tells us, the intention behind Sidewalk Stories was to be of service. It is his hope that by “putting a face” on the homeless statistics, he can help create a context for effective action. As we enter a new millennium the need for that action is great.
Today, our country must confront the reality that an astonishing number of our people suffer from want. According to the US Census, 31 million Americans (14 million children) face hunger. Nearly 12% of our population lives in poverty. And best estimates place the number of homeless at 2 million. No other Western industrialized country has widespread hunger, poverty and homelessness within its borders.
Across the country, soup kitchens, shelters and food banks try, but cannot meet the need. Furthermore, it is impossible to expand their capacity to a level that would match the demand for their services. Most people don’t realize that their appearance coincided with the decline in effective national social programs.
Today these national programs are under-funded and, after years of criticism, have become so punitive that they drive away the people they were intended to serve. Paradoxically, this inability to serve those who qualify for assistance strengthens the argument that we should abandon the idea of national programs for the hungry, poor and homeless.How do we begin to address the crisis? Like Salvo, I believe it requires a new vision. In this vision, providing for America’s most vulnerable citizens becomes a personal and national priority. But to construct that vision we must first learn how to see the hungry, poor and homeless as people like ourselves. Within the photographs that comprise Sidewalk Stories, we are given the cues for this kind of seeing.