Shooting For Beauty


A photographic essay of Tacoma

by Chance Stevens


Looking for photo subjects one day I ended up on Commerce Street, downtown. I was driving up and down the main roads of the city, searching out bleak sights, not hard to find in Tacoma. A crowd appeared in front of a building, and pulling closer, I could see it was a mission of some kind. The forlorn were waiting, in clusters, for something, probably food. Shopping carts, brown bagged malt liquor cans, old blankets, all littered the sidewalk. Something I've noticed since coming here too, the homeless are younger than other cities I've been to. Maybe it's the weather, maybe the older ones seek an easier homeless life down south. Or, more morbidly, maybe they die off quicker up here. I certainly can't think of too many fates worse than being destitute in Tacoma, Washington.

I passed the mission and, just beyond, eyed the perfect subject, a woman, camped out on the sidewalk, propped against a plywood demolition fence. I parked my car directly across the street from her, grabbed my camera, and hopped out.

She was watching me as I crossed the street and walked towards her. Approaching, I asked if I could take her picture.

"Got any money?" she asked.

I pulled out a couple bucks from my pants pocket and handed them to her. Then she leaned backed against the plywood and I started shooting. She was raggedly looking, missing some front teeth, sad eyes, blotchy skin etc. She wasn't embarrassed about being the subject for this shoot. She knew it was because she was freaky looking. She'd made some booze money out of it. We had ourselves an understanding.

Until I started stepping in, going for some close-ups. I was right on her, getting some awesome shots. She had these weird pastel and fluorescent colors on, a mission surplus mish-mash. Against the brown wood backdrop I was having a field day. I was practically on top of her, I was shooting her pores for god’s sake!

Then she softly pulled her hair away from her face and straightened her composure. She ran her fingers through her matted hair and tilted her face, as if posing. She softened her glare and relaxed. She smiled.

She wanted to look good for the camera! Even though she knew she was chosen for this because she was the strangest of all, she still had a bit of fucking self esteem. And damn if she wasn't going to look her best! I remain haunted by the moment to this day.