The most iconic pictures in photojournalism are either violent or depressing. For aspiring photojournalists, they're also the first types of photographs we want to emulate.
A couple years ago, when I started experimenting with photography myself, I tried to think of any war zones close to New York I could visit. Since there weren't any immediate places that came to mind I trained my lens on the inequality I saw everyday: the homeless. Juxtaposing their appearance and wealthy-looking passers by or luxury fashion billboards seemed like an incisive way to show New York's absurd wealth discrepancy.
My gut told me I was wrong every time, but I knew street photography legal and a celebrated genre of documentary photography. After a couple months of snapping random shots of people in the street, I tried to discreetly photograph a homeless woman sitting on the corner of West 4th street. I angled the camera from my hip, but she heard the shutter. She scrambled to her feet, yelling "Get the fuck out of my face, bitch!" I was already halfway across the street, cheeks burning in shame.
"You're at best a passive observer and at worst a predator," Wendy Syfret, an associate editor at Vice, recently wrote, addressing the photographers who submit pictures of homeless people to Vice in the hopes of getting published. "Homelessness isn't unusual or amazing," she wrote. "It's not a surreal moment in time that you can capture and use to illustrate that the world is a brain-splittingly cruel place."