Daily Picture Show

How Do You Photograph Skid Row?

Skid Row, set in the heart of downtown Los Angeles — not far from high-rise lofts and hipster-filled bars — is a place most city-dwellers avoid. At night, dozens of tents occupy the sidewalks, and lawlessness reigns supreme. It's not a place that engenders trust, so photographer Justin Maxon encountered some difficulties when documenting the place. NPR sent Maxon to Skid Row for two days to produce this project to accompany an on-air series on Skid Row.

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At 25, Maxon is a young but acclaimed photographer. Just this year, he took won first prize in domestic news in the National Press Photographers Association contest.

Although he is familiar with photographing impoverished places, Maxon said he'd rarely been yelled at so much. People didn't want to be photographed, and who can blame them? It's a reminder that photojournalism is a tough job. On one hand, the goal is to illustrate realities that the public would otherwise never see. But on the other hand, the photographer runs the risk of being too invasive — of exploiting people, to put it plainly. Maxon says the way around that double-edged sword is simple: Get to know the people and the place.

But how do you really get to know a place in just one day, or, in this case, two? It's a challenge that many photographers face these days as publication budgets shrink and, consequently, so do turnaround times. Is it worthwhile to photograph places that could really use a month of coverage — if there's only money for half a week? The Picture Show thinks so ... but we're interested in your thoughts. You can leave them in the comments field below.

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