This past Monday I was driving back to my place and was at the corner of 17th Street and Northside Drive here in Atlanta when I saw two panhandlers on the corner, one of them holding a sign that simply said: “ANY ACT OF KINDNESS HELPS”. The light turned green almost as soon as I saw them, so I went on my way, but couldn’t help but think of what a great message that is in general. Not in the sense of “Please give me a handout” though. To me it was more of a message about remembering to be kind to others in your day-to-day life, going out of your way to try and help others on a regular basis, no matter how small of an effort that may sometimes be. It could just be finding somebody you care about, and then letting them know it in one way or another. Random acts of kindness like that can mean the world to people. They serve as a reminder that there is still good in the world, which is easy to lose site of these days due to all the negativity in the media, and just the general crap life throws at you on a regular basis.
So as I drove on I thought of what a great portrait it would make, having one of the guys holding the sign with the other in the background, as they were when I first saw them. I rushed back to my place to get my camera and drove back as quickly as possible, hoping they would still be there. They were still there, so I moseyed on over to them and introduced myself. The guy with the sign was named Bill, and the other guy was named Tim; both seemed to be really nice guys. They were both from the same small town in Connecticut and had basically just decided to go on walkabout I guess. They had been hitching across America, and I guess just working the odd job and panhandling to make their way around. They had been all the way out to San Francisco and were looking to make their way back up North.
I told them I was a portrait photographer and that I really loved photographing random people, like them, especially when they happened to be holding a sign with such a great message to it. The fact that they were holding it and possibly not aware of how some people may see a deeper meaning to it made the idea all the more appealing to me. They both agreed to let me do the shots and acted as if they expected absolutely nothing from me in return. It came out looking like this:
Click on the shot to view it larger...
While there doing the shots somebody rolled down their window and handed them a half-eaten bag of pretzels. They both dug into it -- I could see they were hungry. As a general rule I don’t give money to panhandlers, because I don’t want them using it to buy drugs or alcohol with. Instead I will sometimes offer to meet them at a nearby restaurant and actually buy them something to eat; they will ALWAYS take you up on the offer if they are truly hungry too. In this case I did not have time to actually take them someplace to eat, so I broke my rule and handed them a twenty-dollar bill, wished them well, and thanked them for their time.
I hope they saw my interest in them, and what their sign said, as a greater act of kindness than the twenty I handed them, because in my opinion it was. That twenty is likely gone now, but I bet the memory they have of me taking a portrait of them to remind others that any act of kindness helps, isn’t.