Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Photo essay: Pill

Sunil, 'Pill', Digital photograph, 2007


I met Pill somewhere in Midtown during the month of May. Short and unassuming, he seemed to almost shrivel in the fierce afternoon sun. He said that he seems to have clear vision while standing in the sunlight than under the shade of the nearby bodega. The white cotton T-shirt seemed to hang limp off his thin frame and the loose ends along his torso fluttered aimlessly in the hot afternoon wind. His eyes were so deep in their sockets that I had to peer to see his eyeballs clearly and even then could only make out a glimmer of light in them. His face seemed to be perpetually bent downwards as if he were escaping the threat of a direct stare. When I asked him to pose, he strained the sinews in his lean neck and deliberated the act of looking at the camera while deep furrows seemed to plough their way across his pinkish white forehead. The bags under his eyes seem to belie sleepless nights. He said that he was forty years old, but to me he seemed a lot older. Time seemed to have left her mark on the hardscrabble face in more ways than one and I really did not bother to count the creases. I asked him how he ran into a name like Pill and he said that he would rather not elaborate. I did not press further. He said he has been out in the streets for about six years now and sleeps somewhere in caverns of the ugly bus shelter at the midtown 42nd Street bus depot until the hard baton of a police office prods him from his temporary quarters. He said that winters can be hard, but the police horses seem to be dealing with the cold, so why can’t he. I did not find that logic very enlightening, but decided that to each his own rationale.

2 comments:

Tree said...

I love this photo, it's very profound and doesn't even need a backstory, all of it is on his face. I often see people on the street I want to take photos of but I'm either too shy to ask or too worried about taking advantage of someone in a bad situation. Any advice?

Sunil said...

Tree,
You do bring up a good point. I was initially too shy and sometimes overwhelmed by their adversity, but the more I paint faces of people like these, the more is the urge in me to go out and interact with the people who make this stratum of society. I think that urge is what pushed me over and forced me to talk to them - the urge to physically connect rather than do a painting under sterile conditions. Of course, sincerity in demeanor, gentleness and a genuine concern (like going back and giving them prints if they ask for it) helps. The first time is always difficult, but the more people you talk to, the easier it becomes.