The rather enigmatic Suitcase Joe caught our attention with his stark black and white images of the characters who make up the notorious Skid Row.
In modern day America the homeless try to live and ultimately it seems are destined to perish in this dystopia. Significantly in between the ‘surviving’ and ‘perishing’ despite the hardships they face day in day out, residents of this famous/notorious area in Los Angeles do survive and amazingly forge some form of life. Suitcase Joe captures this and more in images where far from some technical wizardry he states he uses his ‘gut’ as his ‘filter’-it draw us into this world where the uncomfortable truth is revealed-poverty and riches exist in direct proximity.
Explain your journey into photography?
I’ve always taken pictures to some extent but I’ve never taken it too seriously. I still don’t but I’m deeply fascinated by Skid Row and I wanted to document it for some time. Taking pictures in and around Skid Row gave me an excuse to shoot more often with more of a focused direction. The more I shoot down there, the more it makes me want to shoot again.
Indeed why photography as a passion?
It’s a hobby for me and I think because I don’t take it too seriously it allows me to have more fun with it than maybe someone who is or wants to be professional. I just like to shoot and I get a little rush when I feel like I’ve captured something worthy. I get excited to walk around and take pictures because I never know what I will see-it gives me a deeper connection to the city.
What forms of photography interest you outside of what we see right know?
It’s not about forms of photography for me as much as it is the subjects. I like pictures of abandoned buildings and underworld people and places. I’m very drawn to realism in all forms. I’m not into professional photo shoots where the lighting is set up just right and the subjects are perfect and pretty-that stuff bores me.
Of course your images depict life on Skid Row for those that who do not know give a bit of background on Skid Row and why it moved you to the point where you wanted to capture the characters who make up Skid Row?
Skid Row is currently one of the most populated areas of homeless people in the United States. They say there’s rock bottom, and then there’s Skid Row. It’s a fascinating, terrifying, dystopia of mentally handicapped people, drug addicts, alcoholics and all kinds of other people whom life has kicked the shit out of in some form or another. I deeply feel compassion for the people there because you don’t end up in Skid Row from having a good background in life. I hope to capture a bit of their stories in my images and shed some light on their situations. Hopefully that will inspire people to react more positively to the destitute anywhere they come across them. We all need a reminder from time to time to be compassionate to others, especially when it doesn’t come easy.
What moved you the most when capturing these characters?
I’m emotionally torn in so many different directions every time I’m there but sometimes I see these people who have next to nothing, living in a tent, give a little of what they have to someone who has even less and they do it without judgement.
What do you think has been the most disturbing aspect of capturing these characters and the area?
I gets to me a lot when I see older people living on the streets. No family to take them in, too old to have a real shot at ever getting back on their feet. More than likely they will die and be forgotten on those streets. It’s all very disturbing but so far that’s the worst. It would bother me more to see kids living on Skid Row but luckily I’ve yet to see it.
In some images you are playing with filters explain your technical approach to photography.
I would like them to all be similar in style but I go more for getting them to feel right. Sometimes that requires making certain aspects more dramatic, playing with the contrast but in all honesty my gut is my real filter.
When and what were the specific details of the last conversation you had with someone about photography which had a profound effect on you?
I don’t talk to anyone about photography-I’m a lone wolf.