Photography and the Looking-Glass Self

Collectively, we know them as “the homeless.” Most of us never speak to them and avoid making eye contact. -Cynthia Hubert, Sacramento Bee

The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept that states a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. In other words, how we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we believe others see us.

For me, photography is an instrument of change. For example, I firmly believe that images have the power to alter the viewer’s perception of those who are homeless. More recently, I have reached the conclusion that strong images can also change how the homeless see themselves.

On the second Saturday of the month you will find me at Loaves and Fishes shooting homeless people and their pets. This is when the University of California Davis Mercer Veterinary Clinic provides the pets of homeless individuals with basic veterinary care.

I try to capture in “family portraits”, the comfort and joy that dogs bring to their homeless owners. After processing the images, the pet owners are provided with the pictures I have taken. For many owners one picture is a more than a thousand words. A single picture is also a looking-glass for owners to see the bonds of love and companionship that exist between themselves and their pets.


Second Saturday Puppy Love

Puppy love. That’s what this story is about.

Puppy love, the kind that I speak of, is pretty simple: it is the intense bonds that exist between dogs and their homeless owners. For many homeless, dogs provide the unconditional love, support and even therapy needed to cope with the hardships of life on the streets.

On the second Saturday of every month, no matter the weather, you will find Sacramento’s homeless and their dogs queued up at the University of California Davis’ Mercer Veterinary Clinic next to Loaves and Fishes’ new Friendship Park. Lines can can be long, but for the homeless the wait is well worth it.

The Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Homeless is a program operated by student volunteers of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Since 1992, the Clinic has provided the pets of homeless individuals with basic veterinary care, access to emergency care, and pet food — all free of charge. Dogs are the primary patients far outnumbering cats. Dogs with medical problems requiring surgery, radiology or other advanced care, are referred to Clinic approved veterinarians in the community.

In My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals (2013), Sociology professor Leslie Irvine provides crucial insight to the central role that dogs play in the lives of some of the homeless community. “For many homeless their dog is more than a companion. In many cases the dog is their only family.” Dogs give many homeless something to live for. Those who work at the Mercer homeless animal clinic and Loaves and Fishes know this.

Over a period of three months, I was at the Clinic on second Saturdays photographing the interaction that occurs among UC Davis veterinarians, student clinic volunteers, the homeless and their dogs. In these images, you can see, and perhaps feel, the healing power, comfort, joy and companionship that dogs bring to their homeless owners.


Old Friends

Yesterday, I saw Darrell for the first time in more than four years.  I have known Darrell for about 15 years.  He lives at 8th & P, under the parking garage vent on the corner and when it rains he moves across the street under the Capital Athletic Club’s (CAC) overhang. 

 I first became acquainted with Darrell in 1999 when I was working downtown and joined CAC.  Up until I retired, Darrell and I would see each other on a regular basis, either at the CAC or the Sunday farmer’s market under the freeway.

It was great seeing Darrell yesterday.  He is more than an acquaintance.  He is the guy I would start most of my work days with.  Darrell is an amazing story.  He has been living on Sacramento streets for more than 25 years!  Yesterday, he told me that this year he will be celebrating his 55th birthday and that he is down to seven (7) teeth.  It is good to know that he spends some of his time “hanging” at Loaves & Fishes.

Christmas Day 2016 in black, white, and a little color

It’s Christmas morning and I’m at Loaves and Fishes to photograph the holiday meal. It is really cold! There is no thermostat for adjusting the heat when you are homeless and living on the street. Many homeless are beginning to stir in nearby areas, rolling up thin sleeping bags and crawling out from makeshift shelters constructed of cardboard and plastic sheeting.

The dining room doors will soon open. A hot ham and turkey dinner is being served, Christmas stockings given to guests, and all receive warm holiday greetings from Loaves and Fishes staff and volunteers. Today, the dining room also provides shelter, a short respite from the bitter cold.

I find that black and white images of the homeless speak loudly about both conditions and needs. I also feel that in some instances images provide windows to the heart, soul and minds of those photographed.

-Gale Filter