By David Loomis
The HawkEye inaugurates its photo-essay feature with images by Alyssa Choiniere, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student majoring in journalism and a contributor to The HawkEye.
In spring 2010, Choiniere enrolled in a Photojournalism class at IUP. One of her assignments near the end of the semester was “to use the camera as a story-telling tool.” In search of a story, she drove to Pittsburgh on Sunday, April 25.
There, she saw Carl Harris, a handicapped beggar. He sat in front of Mancini’s Bread Co. on Penn Avenue near the intersection with 17th Street in the Strip District. On his knee rested a plastic cup containing coins from passers-by.
Here are Choiniere’s photographs of Harris and her narrative of that day.
Man at work, Strip District, Pittsburgh, April 25, 2010
By Alyssa Choiniere
PITTSBURGH — Carl Harris lost his left arm and leg at age 10 when he fell off a freight train and it ran over him, he said. He started begging on weekends in the Strip District four years ago. He is not the only beggar in the Strip. There are several others. But I chose to photograph Harris for several reasons.
Monday through Friday, Harris takes classes to get his G.E.D. I thought this was pretty distinctive, since he’s trying to make something of himself and not only looking for handouts. Harris has two daughters, ages 30 and 9, he said. One lives in South Carolina, and the other lives in Pittsburgh’s Hill District with her mother.
Part of my choice of Harris was that he just looked like a nice guy, not the type of person who would steal my purse while I was trying to get a shot. I was right.
The other part was that his lack of limbs meant that his story was going to be credible. There is another beggar on the strip with an elaborate story about cancer and her young children under a bridge, which would be heartbreaking if it were true. But that seems unlikely.
So I picked Harris because he has visual proof that he is handicapped, which makes him a legitimate beggar.
I think he is unique in that he is articulate, he will carry on a conversation, he seems genuinely grateful when people help him, and he never directly asks people for money like others do. Instead, Harris lets people approach him.
Locals seem to find Harris special. A lot of them will stop and talk to him for a few minutes. Pedestrians regard him either with approval or disapproval. There is rarely any reaction in between.
I shot a series of pictures of people looking at him with disgust. And I shot a series of people giving him money, a pat on the leg, and just stopping by to check on him.
I heard people say Carl Harris is the only person they ever give money to and that they will see him next Sunday.
–by Alyssa Choiniere