Homelessness in San Francisco stirs many emotions. It’s no secret that many cannot bring themselves to look at the men and women suffering on our streets.
S.F. native Tigran Demurjian, 22, decided to confront these emotions head on by going out with his camera and taking photos of homeless people.
“It’s easier to pretend that it isn’t happening, that a wealthy society like ours isn’t allowing such widespread misery to occur at its doorsteps,” Demurjian said in an email. “Worse, it’s easy to become frustrated and angry, to think of unhoused people as a distinct Other, as ‘the homeless.’ I’m ashamed of these feelings.”
Demurjian began his photo project in 2018 with the intention of helping folks to see homeless individuals in a new light. “I hope to make us look at our neighbors just a little bit longer,” he explains on his website.
“My photography is an attempt to bring myself and others face-to-face with the very real humans experiencing this tragedy,” he said. “It’s an attempt to combat that numbing feeling, because a true solution to this problem will be born of our collective empathy, not of apathy or contempt.”
Demurjian likes to wander the streets of The City. When he encounters someone he wants to photograph, he engages them as best he can.
“Sometimes I strike up a conversation, sometimes there’s a sort of silent agreement to pose for a picture,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m not always able to carry on a conversation due to the circumstances under which these images are taken.”
One man Demurjian stopped asked him for change and thanked him for “not just walking by.” Another man he met was engrossed in finger painting. The man gave Demurjian one of his paintings.
“It’s hanging on the wall of my bedroom, and it reminds me that there’s always room for art in your life,” he said.
By taking these pictures, Demurjian has been reminded that The City is a place surging with life and community.
“Beautiful things do happen on the streets of San Francisco,” he said. “You just have to stop and observe to experience them.”
The Visualist features the work of Bay Area residents who seek to understand, beautify or interact with their environment through creative mediums.