Monday, December 28, 2020

More on Steve

Steve, as noted, seems to be on a good path these days. As a recovering addict, of course, he is and will always be one short step from disaster. He has a bit of money these days, and could certainly go buy a couple bottles of whiskey and end it all any given day. He is a grown-ass man, and nobody could stop him. I hope, of course, that he has not over the last week, and will continue not to for the remainder of his life.

Long time readers may recall that I took a picture of Steve near his nadir on the street, and wrote down his story, and then made a little blurb book that had some material on homelessness in general, wrapped around Steve's specific story. Steve has had two copies of the book, I have the third, and that's it. You could probably go find it on blurb, and read it (Steve doesn't mind) but ultimately it's not a book for you.

To my embarrassment, Steve credits my little book with a lot of the heavy lifting of his recovery. I don't believe it for a moment, although I will accept a single small sliver of credit, because I am at least that vain.

There were people directly involved, there were people who pumped his stomach, who saved him from fatal alcohol poisoning (at least twice), people who counseled him sternly that he was going to die if he didn't knock it off. There were people who sat with him in therapy, people who comforted him as he struggled through DTs, people who fed him and cleaned up after him when he was off his nut. I was none of those heroes, I just wrote a book and took a couple photos.

Still, my little book does seem to have been a little piece of it. It was, I imagine, a kind of talisman, proof that someone valued him enough to remember his name and a few details of his story.

This photo of Steve, from that time, is apparently now part of a before/after poster the homeless center downtown displays to prove that It Can Be Done (and by God, if Steve isn't proof that alcohol addiction can be beaten, or at least contained, nobody is).

Despite the slight impact this picture had on Steve's life, it is nevertheless the most important and impactful photograph I will ever take. Because nothing else I do is likely to have even so slender a consequence in the world.

What I think is worth noting here is that this shows us the breadth of ways to make a difference with a photo.

This wasn't published in The Times, this didn't appear in a book by MACK, this wasn't the cover a bestselling album. I wrapped it in, somehow, something like the right words, and I gave a copy to the subject of book, a busted-out homeless man with nothing.

And, somehow, it made a difference.

Steve can get sober, somehow, and you can make a photograph that makes a difference, somehow. You might not even know it, and it might take a surprising path, but it might just happen. Go take those pictures and tell those stories, write those verses, sing those songs, whatever it is you do, do it. It might just touch someone, somehow.

And that, surely, is the point of it all?


  1. This is the most important post since I’ve been following you a couple of years ago. I gives all of us self-doubters permission and encouragement to do our art, however we define it. Thanks!

    1. That is really lovely of you to say, and lovely to hear! Thank you!

  2. You put a lot on Steve, and a lot on your original photo of him (re)published here. Still, it does add layers of context to the fathomless mysteries of the two photographs, 'before' and 'after', and one begins to project speculative attributes to Steve's facial expressions in both photos.

    I've come to believe more strongly over time that people's faces are very, very difficult to read -- and photography makes this even more difficult, perhaps impossible.

    As to Steve and his prospects, we don't know his backstory, his demons.

    Undoubtedly, you've helped him. Also, you have the seeds of an important project.