Walk On By

Jed Smith

Walk on By © 2017 Jed Smith

This week I share an image I recently captured in the Dorsoduro area of Venice. As I was finally going through the batch of images taken on a hot July afternoon, this leapt out at me and its power took me by surprise.

In Venice a common theme is beggars in supplication to people passing by.

I call this “passive begging” and the streets of Venice are populated with people such as the man above. I’ve also seen numerous women prostrating themselves on their knees and elbows. Their heads are bowed and a small cup is in their hands. They don’t move. Rarely do I take photos of these people. I feel more comfortable taking photos of the street performers. After all, they’re actually doing something to earn money, right? That’s what I tell myself. But looking at this particular image I say, “Jed Smith you don’t know this man’s story, do you?”

Hmmm, that gives me pause.

People are adept at looking away, and avoiding what makes them uncomfortable.

And this is what stands out to me as the central theme of this photo. This man is patiently and humbly looking with expectation and hope that the three men about to pass will notice him and share of their well-heeled fortunes. Yet the one man whose face we see seems already to have put on his blinders as he is about to walk by.

This is life, and we’re often afraid to look or connect with this side of it.

I say this as much to myself as to anyone else. Maybe by taking the time to look and connect vs. walling myself away protectively might teach me something. Maybe I’ll understand my own fear that at the end of the day life’s circumstances land each of us in very different places. I could have been this man by a simple twist of fate.

Who really knows any person’s story in life? And I’m not just talking about beggars.

Perhaps this man is a complete shyster, and his appearance is carefully calculated to evoke pity and coax money from a stranger’s wallet. And then again, perhaps he doesn’t have the ability to work for a variety of possible reasons, and this is what he does to get by.

I simply don’t know, and judging a situation by our own preconceived ideas and filters rarely lands us with the truth of a situation and a person. Maybe this is why this photo speaks to me with so much emotion.

My heart hurts when I contemplate this photo. My heart hurts when I think of how many times I have walked by people and looked away while seeking to stay in my protected world.

This leaves me with an important reminder.

Art and photography is an important way for me to “journal” and contemplate life.

My art often teaches me by bypassing my conscious mind. Thank goodness. When I take photos something inside tells me where to point my camera. Only later, as this photo demonstrates, do I understand why.