Edward Hopperís famous painting "Nighthawks" isolated
patrons can be seen through the windows of a brightly lit coffee
shop. In "Luncheonette," Ann Marie Rousseau observes
another kind of nocturnal urban isolation.
The photograph, blown up to stately
proportions, shows a homeless woman with shopping bags at her
feet. The lone patron of an all-night restaurant, she stares
out the window with the exhausted resignation of someone able
to rest only briefly from her continuous forced march through
This image is one of several from
Rousseauís book, "Shopping Bag Ladies: Homeless Women Speak
About Their Lives" (Pilgrim Press, 1981), that are at Orange
Coast College Art Gallery through Thursday.
The black-and -white photographs,
shot mostly during the 1970s in New York, Boston and San Francisco,
reveal a world of cruel fluorescent lights, immovable plastic
chairs and hard, dirty floors- the rest rooms, train station
"waiting rooms" and shelter cafeterias where these
women huddle like so many forgotten old coats.
Outdoors, they are observed sitting
in the shadows of shops on derelict streets, rummaging through
garbage bins, sunning themselves or eyeing middle-class women
who stride by, oblivious or repelled.
Brief statements from some of the
women sketch in the circumstances- a lost check, ill health,
venal landlords- that have landed them on the streets, and subjected
them to the sort of unimaginable indignities they endure every
day in pursuit of rest, food, cleanliness and even control over
their own bodies.
A few of the images, like "The
Benediction" and "The Importance of Art"- are
dependent on chance juxtapositions creating ironic social commentary,
a strategy (most famously used during by Depression-era photographers)
that now looks dated or didactic.
But Rousseau generally avoids obvious
commentary. Her great strength is her attentiveness to both
the tiny joys (a cheese sandwich, a piece of fabric from a dumpster)
and the great pockets of numb despair in these womenís lives.
Although there has been no end of media coverage of "the
homeless," the photographs remind viewers of the individuals
behind the label.
Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, November 7, 1996