When i was younger, there was a Mayor of Philly named, Frank Rizzo. It was 1976 and we were supposed to celebrate the Bicentennial. Everyone was looking forward to it I would walk the streets and make photos and then, then I realized… I had many shots of homeless people. Rizzo had other plans. From what I understand, he didn’t want people coming to Philly in droves. I mean, how would you screen them?
In my own way, I agreed with the mayor. Probably not for the same reasons, but I was not into people being homeless and hungry while the elite and wealthy were unexposed. I felt the money would be better spent on shelters and food than for people to have a vacation here. 46 years later and i still feel the same.
So, back then I decided to put, my heart where my thoughts and mouth are. In my mind and heart, I was still making photos for all the guys that died in the war. They will be semi-forgotten in time. I felt a duty to make photos for them. i still do. Only now, if a shot doesn’t work, I blame them and not me. Well, I made a self mission to make photos of the homeless on the streets and send prints to the Mayor’s office. I did this weekly for years.
While I was on this mission, I got phone calls at times. One day, the Mayor called me personally and asked me to come to his office. I didn’t think twice about it and I went to his place on the arranged appointment. It took a year for this to happen. He invited me in and I was checked by an LT LEO and he said, he’s clean. I sat at the front of the desk and The Mayor told me a few things. He said you’re a good photographer. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to please everyone in the city? Yes sir but Mr. Rizzo, I make my part easy for you. You don’t have to roam the streets looking for the homeless, I bring them to your desk.
He said, how about i give you some other things to take pictures of and you let this go? I replied, you stop giving me subject matter and I’ll stop making pictures of it. I got the feeling at that moment, that he didn’t appreciate my answer. He said I tell you this, the day will never come that we don’t see the homeless on the streets. I said, Mr. Mayor, I don’t ask you to fix anything, just ask you to try. Ha asked, will you stop sending me pictures> NO! I will always and always continue for whoever is in power.
He patted my shoulder and said, I promise I will always look at every single picture you send. I also will put everyone in the city archives. Maybe you can send them every 2 weeks? It would allow me to do other things too. I left feeling, he’s not a bad man like everyone says he is. No angel but really cares about the residents. I agreed. Then after some time, there was some work being done at some shelters. Better beds and security. Things that make even the homeless feel human.
I can’t say that anything I did was a part of the realization of the situation, but it was a step in the right direction. Our photos may shine a light for others. I still do this mission. Maybe once a month I send files to the city. The current mayor and DA don’t care anyway.
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We have the ability to express our hearts and souls because we can. Maybe that’s all that we as poets and messengers get to do.