Then I ran across a series of photos that I made five years ago while roaming through the California surf town of Ocean Beach. I had an interaction with two homeless veterans that night that continues to be a profound experience for me.
I did a blog post at the time that included a black and white image of the men and a description of our encounter. I'm re-posting this today because I think we need to remember gratitude should extend to not only the military folks who wear medals, but also those who wear scars from being a veteran... both physical and psychological.
The original post is below and I encourage you to read about my interaction with these vets. I've also reworked two of the files as color images that I want to share today for the first time. I hope these guys have made it through to the other side of whatever placed them in the situation they were in.
The original images were made with a Nikon D300 and 24mm f/2.8 lens. It was dark, so I was shooting at ISO 3200 at 1/60th of a second and f/2.8. There is quite a bit of noise in the original file. A black and white rendering made good use of that noise so that was what I used in the original post. Five years later, technology has advanced and a much more acceptable color file is possible. I used Lightroom 5 and the NIK suite to create the two color images. While still showing signs of a photo made at an ISO higher than could produce optimal quality, I think they tell story better.
Here's the original post...
Monday, December 1, 2008
Wandering around Ocean Beach and soaking up the California vibe, I stepped back to get a picture of a couple of kids running through traffic wearing wetsuits and carrying surf boards. Then I realized I was about to step on something. I quickly realized it was actually a someone.
“What are you taking pictures of? Take a picture of the homeless. Tell a story about the homeless”. “Dude, get a picture of the 13’s”. I made a picture and thought of my exit strategy from what might be a difficult situation. Instead, I ended up in a 15 minute conversation and heard tales of six year hitches in the Navy and Marines with tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq and hurricane clean-ups.
Marine vet says “They used to want me when I was willing to go do their shit. Now they don’t want me around and don’t respect me. I used to make $3,600 a month plus hazardous duty pay and now they offer me $242 a month. Who can live on that? I eat out of dumpsters.”
Navy vet says “Dude, you slept in a dumpster last night. They shut me out of VA benefits and I paid into the GI bill. I’ve been this close to papa Bush and I should have did to him what he trained me to do."
“I’ll tell you what, Obama is going to change this shit. I used to hate hippies. I’d beat one up whenever I could, but they were right. They were right man.” Navy vet breaks open a cigarette to re-roll it into two. “Dude, take another picture.”
I walked away wondering if they had the number 13 tattooed on themselves to try to conjure up good fortune or as a black mark symbolizing their horrible lot in life. There's always more to the story... who knows what they have really been through. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t accidentally step on one of them. It seems like these guys have been stepped on enough.