Often I am asked about this man in the photograph.
Who is he? What is wrong with him? Why did I take his photo?
It is an image that is not easy to look at. This man, a resident of the port city of Cochin on India's southern coast, stopped me to ask if I'd like to photograph him.
I think it was my first day there after getting the overnight train from Goa, a travel companion and I were walking through the streets and this gentleman came from behind us on his bicycle. He didn't speak but rather gestured a camera shape and pointed to himself. Admittedly, I was taken aback at first sight but I thought him too interesting not to photograph, especially as he offered himself. I snapped one head and shoulders portrait and a full body portrait with his bicycle. Of course he immediately extended his hand expecting some kind of currency; I fished around in my pocket and pulled out two 100 Rupee coins and handed them over. He pocketed them and went on his way. At the time it was the equivalent of £2, so he fared quite well.
I've had many reactions to this image. I'd say 70% are horrified, whereas 30% felt it was strangely compelling. I believe the latter is due to there being a sense of nobility in the way he looks out of the photo. That despite his misfortune he is still a proud human being.
What I feel is the strongest aspect of this image is something I find runs through all of my work - photography or otherwise - which is the idea of simply seeing the world as it is, without judgement.
Also, regarding the idea of beauty as something completely subjective, I see the role of this image as highlighting what we perceive as beauty is simply what our society considers to be beautiful. To say X is beautiful whereas Y is ugly is merely a point of view and not based on fact. Following on from what Marcel Duchamp often used as his own works (that of the everyday, mass produced object placed in the position of artistic artefact) I want to draw attention to what is over looked in the everyday. His raison d'etre was that art should be put in the service of the mind and not solely for the retinas.
There will be other people in the world who are in a worse situation than this gentleman and they should not be marginalised. I am not suggesting placing them upon a pedestal but the endgame is not to look away, not to feel repulsed when we see them. As have many who have looked at this image - including my companion who was with me that day.
This is by no means a new idea, many examples can be found in the work of Joel Peter Witkin in his use of society's 'outsiders' and Diane Arbus too with her camera being drawn towards those who were, at the time, often deemed as 'freaks' by the general populace.
Both approached their subjects with grace and humility despite the unconventionality, I hope I have achieved the same.