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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brilliant Photo Essay: Homeless on State Street

I just stumbled across a brilliant collection of photos taken in Madison, Wisconsin by a man named Glenn H. Austin. He put together a series of photos into an online essay that he calls "The Poor and Homeless on State Street."

I found this particularly interesting, primarily because I am currently poor and homeless myself. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting in a coffee shop on State Street. I am not actually living on State Street.

I've been back in Madison, my hometown, since I became homeless and left Chicago in mid-July, 2011.  I have befriended and gotten to know quite a few of Madison's homeless on State Street.

Austin's photos were taken about eight years ago, judging from the copyright notice on his works. As I looked through his beautiful black and white images, I searched for familiar faces. One or two, perhaps, but the folks in his essay seem to have moved on, away from State Street and probably away from Madison altogether. What is stunning about this essay by Austin, aside from the beauty of his photography, is that his essay could have been made last week. State Street in Madison is, sometimes, shoulder to shoulder with homeless people. A lot of homeless people.

Madison is economically well off, buffered from the winds of recession and trouble in part by the gargantuan presence of the University of Wisconsin and the 40,000 students enrolled here. In addition, Madison is the seat of Dane County's government (more revenue), it is the state capitol (huge revenue), and the Federal Government has many operations here (gigundo money). Oscar Mayer and Ray-O-Vac are headquartered here, and there are many non-smokestack industries here too.

So, then, why are there so many homeless in Madison? There are many reasons, of course, too many to detail in this little post. Suffice it to say that Madison is full of tolerant and friendly people, services that help homeless people, and the weather is nice from late spring through early fall. Many of the homeless here are just passing through, spending a few days to a few months before moving along. I'll get into that in a future post. This post is meant to call your attention to Glenn H. Austin's incredible photos. Perhaps it's time for somebody to do an updated State Street homeless photo project.

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