$2 Portraits Project: Seeing the Unseen

As a friend mentioned in the comments section on my post on The City & the City by China Miéville, you realize how much you intentionally work to unsee, unhear, and even unsmell parts of your day-to-day life as you read the book. At about the same time, I first came across San Francisco photographer Thomas Hawk, and what he is calling the $2 portraits project. When anyone asks him for money, he agrees to pay $2 but on the condition that the person pose for a picture in exchange. Hawk captures true portraits, and he writes down a piece of the life story that goes with it.

The project has since expanded to include other photographers in a photo pool on Flickr. I love the portraits, but the stories are what really brings it home. Justin Beck added an audio clip on his blog, detailing his meeting with a man whose name is way too interesting to not record. Looking through the portraits, I’m struck with the idea of how rare it is that you see a homeless person smile. They always work so hard at putting on the miserable act to elicit charity, while most of us work so hard to unsee them. This project humanizes these people, shows where they came from and what family they might (or might not) have. All around, it’s a fascinating slice of the web.


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