The Painted Men in a World of Rising Inequality

Painted Man. Black. Rome. In a world of rising inequality, people have to find difficult ways to earn money
Painted Man. Black. Rome

August 2008. Yes, that is when I was in Rome. It’s been a long time, and now the dates come back to me. Now, when I gaze back, I remember I was heading to Europe for an interview with DSM, N.V. of the Netherlands. DSM was to be my last corporate job, and I still have mixed feelings about the company. If there is one positive thing I want to say about the company regarding this post, it is that my career in DSM directed my conscious thought to the rising levels of inequality in the world.

But it was August 2008, and the sub-prime crisis had not yet kicked us between the legs. In fact, when I went for the final interview, my chairperson told me that the company had enough money to invest in my country, and that it was cash rich.

Everything changed by the 1st of November, when I joined the company. Suddenly, we stopped talking about how much cash we possessed. Our story changed, and we began talking about cash management being the first order of business.

The Painted Men

Painted Man. White. Rome
Painted Man. White. Rome

When I walked the streets of Rome, I noticed the Painted Men, as I like to call them now, standing or sitting, on the streets of Rome. A singer called Steve McDonald sang a song called The Painted Men, about the Picts. I hope he does not mind me borrowing the title of his excellent song.

I regarded these painted men as an oddity, and nothing more. If you want to consider me to be an insensitive chap, be my guest. A few years later, my bosses booted me out of DSM (and my corporate career); and I returned to photography.

This is when I resumed street photography but, in contrast with my earlier approach, I now began striking up conversations with people on the street. Over the course of these conversations, I realized they are all generally decent folk, struggling to survive.

But, with rising levels of inequality in the world, I find people are becoming increasingly frustrated and angry.

After Covid. A Reappraisal

Painted Man. Gold. Rome
Painted Man. Gold

Then, we have gone through Covid-19. In fact, we will never be free of the disease. Apart from the lingering health issues that come with Covid, it has exacerbated inequality. We were already living in a world of rising inequality, and the situation has become worse. Many have lost their jobs and, despite the doles that some governments have handed out, life is going to be tough.

We are approaching the end of 2021, but when I pulled these images out of the attic, I looked at them through fresh eyes. Questions welled up inside me and refused to be quelled.

  • What conditions prompted these men to find such a tough way to make money. If you examine the images, you may well ask yourself how they held themselves in those positions for such a long period. What happened when they needed to take a lunch or toilet break? How did they manage the boredom, the tourists, the thirst?
  • What happened to them after the sub-prime crisis?
  • Further, what happened to them during, and post, Covid-19?

Suddenly, these men I photographed long ago transformed themselves from being curiosities to men who desperately wanted to earn money.

When you look back at your images, something may often tempt you to re-interpret them. Or to re-edit them in with a fresh approach.

All I can recommend is that you do this exercise from time to time, because this practice will help your growth as a photographer, and human being.

Full disclosure. 

I edited the image using Luminar AI. But, Luminar Neo is now in it’s last stage of the prelaunch. There is a Black Friday sale on till the 29th November. If you want to explore it, clock the button on the right.

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