Could we but draw back the curtains
That surround each other’s lives,
See the naked heart and spirit,
Know what spur the action gives,
Often we should find it better,
Purer than we judged we should,
We should love each other better,
If we only understood…”

If We Understood – Anonymous

Over the past few years, while exploring downtown LA , I’ve seen (what seems like) a lot of people in crisis. Mental, emotional, physical – you name it, I’ve probably seen it. Just an unfortunate consequence of the many hours I’ve spent roaming and observing DTLA. As a street photographer, my immediate response upon encountering such a scene has been to point my camera and create an image. I just have to scratch that itch…see the scene, frame it in my mind, raise the camera, click the shutter. It’s Instant. Automatic. Simply documenting life in the streets of LA. Right?


In retrospect, behind that mask of nonchalant efficiency, there may have been a bit more going on. Maybe…just maybe that automatic response has allowed me to distance myself from a very familiar and uncomfortable emotion. I’m sure you know the one. It’s that odd sense of sadness and guilt ya’ get seeing a stranger in distress and not knowing whether or what to do. I don’t know what it’s really called, but, yeah, that’s the one.

So, what does this have to do with the lead image, “Praying to an (In)different God”?


See, when I saw this person, I froze for a moment. I didn’t go through my normal sequence of seeing the scene, framing it in my mind, raising the camera and clicking the shutter. I, of course, saw the scene, but the next step was stalled by a question…”What happened in this persons life that brought him to be kneeling on the sidewalk in downtown LA without a shirt and barely a pair of shoes?” and another, “Who is he?” and more… “What’s he doing?”, “Is he mentally ill”, “Is he hurt”, “Should I do something?” “What?” How?”, etc. – All of these questions came to mind in the short time it took for the rest of the automatic functions to kick start and create the image.

I don’t have answers. I still created the image. I still have that familiar and uncomfortable feeling (that I still can’t name). And, I still continue to photograph & share the good & the bad of the what & the who I see in DTLA because…someone should.

So, at the end of this very strange year, during this holiday season, I wish you the best and hope that we all can harness those familiar & uncomfortable feelings to help someone in need.

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Equipment Used

  • Leica SL2
  • Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron Asph SL

© 2014-2021 Reginald Foster, All Rights Reserved. All Photos and text are the property of Reginald Foster and Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Reginald Foster is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Reginald Foster and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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