homeless woman huddles in a heap on the sidewalk below a Macy’s
window display. Display mannequins, bald and resembling H.R.
Giger aliens, hold up their hands in a benediction or blessing-
a gesture the Pope gave recently in Central Park. One mannequin
is dressed in a bikini- the other in a one-piece swimsuit. For
the New Yorkers, this window advertises "resort wear"
and escape to a warmer climate.
For the woman below the display,
Macy’s is just a destination where she can collapse and rest-
not an escape or a place to window shop. Her face is shrouded
in silent resignation, her back arched in an embryonic curl.
Reflected in the glass faV ade like a Richard Estes urban landscape
is the street and traffic of Manhattan and the artist’s silhouette,
camera in hand. Two views of women in American society- the
idealized youthful image of woman as plastic mannequin- and
the disintegrating image of an older woman, fragile and abandoned.
The irony: this commercial gesture of benediction will amount
to nothing for this woman, who will receive neither social blessing
nor Club Med reservations.
Ann Marie Rousseau, artist in residence
at Orange Coast College, captures an American tragedy in "Out
of Place, Out of Mind: A Retrospective Exhibit of Photographs
About Homeless Women in America" at Orange Coast College’s
Art Gallery. The exhibit might also be titled "Out of Sight,"
since Rousseau’s contention is that, in the eyes of passerby,
the homeless do not exist.
A day in the Life of Darian
Moore is a portrait of a woman slumped in the doorway of
an art gallery late at night, exhausted. Displayed in the gallery
window is her mirror image in an artwork by Zuniga: a woman
slumped with her head in her hands. Art imitating life is stolen
with the snap of the shutter.
Drinking shows that life
on the street is not without human contact- however fleeting.
A man and a woman embrace on a raised cement curb, having shared
a bottle of gin in a paper bag outside a gas station. The man
holds the woman’s neck firmly while kissing her lips; the woman,
seemingly surprised by the spontaneity of his momentary passion,
is "gassed" up with no place to go. Oblivious to this
romantic interlude, another man stretches out on the street,
Rousseau came to understand the
homeless situation in New York City in the early 1970s. Teaching
art at a shelter for homeless woman, Rousseau gave each woman
a camera with which to document her vision of the world. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art was so impressed with their images
that it organized an exhibition to showcase these photographs
along with their narrative text. Since Rousseau was on the inside,
she began to interview these women and photograph them over
a 10-year period. This photographic documentation was published
in the book Shopping Bag Ladies: Homeless Women Speak About
Their Lives. A film option followed in 1985, with Lucille
Ball playing a "composite" homeless woman in the TV
movie Stone Pillow.
Thirty-four black-and-white photographs
make up the OCC retrospective exhibition. Rousseau describes
her experiences with these women as going underground and then
emerging to report back to the front- having had access others
Homeless people live without benediction.
For most of us, these John and Jane Does are not only sick,
lonely, helpless and terrified, but also invisible. We would
rather look at a plastic, anorexic mannequin in spiffy, two-piece
swimwear than at a woman trying to survive on the street beneath
a window display. She represents an ugly reality- one not easily
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