Thomas Hawk has started what he calls his $2 Portrait Project, where he gives $2 to any panhandler who asks and in exchange takes a photo of them.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I don’t believe in giving money to panhandlers, after many encounters in San Francisco with aggressive panhandlers I believe giving them money just exacerbates the problem. Often it’s also just helping them support a drug or alcohol problem (and before some of you say that’s not the case try offering them food instead of money and they will often turn you down).

But I’ve also had the experience where I wanted to take photos of people on the street (especially down at Venice Beach) and they wouldn’t let you take their photo unless you gave them money. So what’s a street photographer to do? Is it exploiting the homeless to offer them money to take their photo? Would it better just to move on and find a willing subject that doesn’t mind having their photo taken?

Giving money in exchange for a photo also takes away one of the elements of street photography that I struggle with, asking strangers if I can take a photo of them. Should I take the easy route and pay my subjects or should I work through my fear and conquer it by continuing to struggle dealing with strangers? I’m going to learn a lot more from the latter.