Justin Beck shot the above portrait on Shattuck Avenue. He paid the man, whose name he couldn’t identify, $2.00 and chatted to him for a while.

The portrait was taken as part of an initiative Beck is participating in called the $2 Portraits Project which was launched by San Francisco photographer Thomas Hawk on June 12 2008.

On that day, Hawk vowed that every day until he died he would offer $2.00 to anyone who asked him for money in exchange for their portrait. As he explains it: “While I’m taking their portrait I’m going to ask their name and try to learn a little bit about them. I plan on doing this for the rest of my life — assuming that I can afford to. In part I’m undertaking this project because I realize that I’ve been avoiding people asking me for money. My biggest motivation behind this project, however, is simply that I think human interaction is a good thing.”

Beck’s friend recorded the conversation he had with the man above. He has taken a number of other portraits for the project in Berkeley, including Michael and Kim, both on Telegraph Avenue. Find out more on Beck’s Flickr page.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. Justin,

    So, here is a guy who in *your* expressed view (not mine) is incompetent to even state his name, so much so that you hope he gets psych help, and now you claim to have his consent to post his photo on the Interweb. Which is it?

    You say you only offer the $2 when approached for money in response to my comparison to street-walker porn. Well, hello sailor.

    You aren’t sure how this is worse than just asking: in my opinion, it’s a “community standards” thing. I know it when I see it, to quote the good chief justice. (and at some level, you do too, judging by the nature of your defensiveness.)

    Ethical? I dunno one way or the other. Maybe it is, maybe it ain’t. I have my opinion but…But it ain’t journalism. It’s porn.

  2. Thanks for your follow up, Thomas. To be clear, I did not wave money at the man. Under no circumstances to I ever approach someone to participate in this. Only if someone approaches me to ask for money do I offer them $2 in exchange for a portrait, I always explain that the picture and information will appear online, and if they refuse, I still give them the money. So, I’m not sure how this is worse than if, for example, I walked up to the man and asked to take and publish his picture along with a few details about his life, with no offer of money.

    While it may make some people uncomfortable, I do not believe the project is unethical. I do respect and appreciate your opinion.

  3. Justin:

    Photojournalism “in general” I have no problem with. If you went out on the street and took shots of what there is to see, that’s just documenting reality. But your shot here isn’t that.

    You’re shot here documents what you could get a hungry-for-money person to do for $2.

    I’m neither ashamed or proud (or, for the record, particularly titillated) to note that I’ve seen some examples of Internet porn which, by all appearances and by self-description, consists of picking up a street prostitute, waving some money at the person, conducting an, um, transaction — and taping and then publishing the event. That’s not photojournalism – that’s porn. One of the the worst kinds of porn, no less.

    By way of contrast, if I know that a certain area is high traffic in street prostitution and take my camera there and film some unrelated third party transaction, then publish it while taking care to respect privacy and the law and protect my sources — that could be journalism, depending on in what context I publish.

    What you have in your shot here is inadvertent documentation of an event wherein you’re walking around wanting something and you have $2 to wave around to get it, and a disadvantaged person accepting your transaction – accepting the $2 for in exchange for some pretty hairy public exposure. (And, just to lighten my tone here I’ll mention: he is awfully hairy, isn’t he? 🙂

    My understanding of the ideal formalism of journalism is that while it might be ok to pay for tips or leaks, once you are paying acknowledged sources it’s no longer journalism. You are no longer documenting, you are manufacturing.

    See what I mean?

    (It is a beautiful shot if we look at it just as an example of the technical art of photography. And, scruffy or not, he’s a handsome fellow in his own particular way. It’s just that you hired a model for $2 and I have trouble separating that kind of exchange, in this Internet context, from something like the infamous “bum fights” videos.)

  4. Thomas –

    Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you feel that way.

    I have no intention of profiting off the picture or selling it at all.

    I’m curious,what you think about photojournalism in general — photographers taking people’s pictures without paying them anything, and publishing them in newspapers, on TV and online. Do you also find that offensive?

    Justin Beck

  5. That’s obscene on a few levels.

    There’s the ethics question. “Human interaction” is a good thing on some level, sure – but, this isn’t human interaction this is the extraction of labor at submarket rates. That should be the first clue. It is entirely possible to give one of these folks $2 and interact with them and enrich yourself without the excuse of exploiting the encounter to gain Internet Fame. That’s a good hint that something is bogus here.

    Next, there’s the multiple layers of bull-hockey in exchanges like this. In the comments on the photographer’s blog he writes: “We asked twice but weren’t able to understand his name, because everything he said was unintelligible word salad. The name he gave us seemed to be a dozen syllables long and made no sense”. If you listen carefully to the audio recording of the fellow giving his name it is completely sensible. His name is “Who the -f- are you,you naive turk but you say you wanna gimme 2 bucks why then sure i’ll amuse you because i can see you mean well”

    And that’s just one of his many names, as he cleverly remarks. That’s his Native American name, but he has many others.

    And the photographer’s comments also include this gem: “I hope he’s able to receive some kind of medical and psychological care.” Well, I’m sure the sentiment is mutual betwixt the two of them. Indeed, from the audio, the gentleman in the photo sounds like he was trying to offer some psych care to the photographer.

    Next objection: it is a decades long pride of Berkeley that odd or messed up yet modestly functional types are tolerated and informally supported more than they are criminalized. But this kind of project turns them into spectacle. A tourist attraction. By analogy, round about 1968 in Haight-Ashbury there were bus tours with the driver yammering on about hey, this is the wild lands where the hippies live — peer out your windows and you can see some of the wildlife. Of course, a significant percentage of the spectacle were strung-out runaways half-starving and confused. Stop the bus, get out and help? Nah… just find a way to profit from the images. (Eventually, legend has it, the more together hippies figured out the trick of running alongside the tour buses holding mirrors up to the windows. Kind of like our friend in the audio track linked with this photo.)

    I’m sure I’m overly defensive. I’d wager a buck that the gentleman in the photo would be enthusiastic about his images appearance and use this way on the Intertubes. I only mean to point out why.