20 Interrogations about Barbara DeGenevieve’s Panhandler Project

Barbara DeGenevieve’s signature is engaging taboo topics to promote public discussion, and The Panhandler Project is no exception. Begun in 2004 and completed in 2006, The Panhandler Project includes photographs of homeless men posing nude and a 50-minute DVD documenting those photo-shoots. The photographer compensated each of the five men involved in the project with $100, new clothing, meals, and a one-night stay in the hotel room which had served as the shooting location.

Description from MoCP. Read more here.

1)How does the work talk about issues such as class, race, nudity and sexuality of the subject matters?

2)Is this work regarded as collaboration with panhandlers or exploitation and objectification of a cultural group the artist does not belong?

3)What does seeing these fleshy, naked, scarred dudes in such languorous poses mean to us?

4)Do we see indignity or do we see guys who are pleased as punch to be in a posh room, hamming it up for the camera?

5)What ethical concerns does the work raise beside the ones it extinguishes?

6)Regarding the fact that all the panhandlers that have been photographed are African-American, whether the artist has selected them with this intention or not, how does this project make statements about race?

7)What does this project imply to us by its direct confrontation with the contentious issue of nudity of African-American men?

8)Does the artist have the power because she has the money to pay the panhandlers? Or do they have the power because without them there wouldn’t be such a project?

9)Does the project critique the free market of capitalism: the economic exchange of money and goods for services?

10)What political concerns does the creation of this sexually charged situation raise?

11)What does sexualization of the bodies of male panhandlers-who have rarely if ever been seen as sexual objects of desire-mean to us?

12)Why do we, or don’t we call this project pornographic? And in general where do we draw the line between fine art photography and pornography?

13)Is this segment of the population incapable of giving informed consent about the use of their images?

14)Does this new representation of marginalized population lead to social change?

15)To what extent is photography-as the byproduct of such a bizarre experience-capable of reflecting its levels of criticality?

16)In terms of a hundred dollars as the compensation, where do we draw the line in this unpleasant transaction?

17)Artists have been representing the nude marginalized female figure for generations. Picasso painted prostitutes he slept with. So did Manet. With this notion, is it more disturbing because the subjects are male, or they are African-American?

18)Is it because they are presented in photographic form and that is more “real”?

19)What statements do the accompanying videos make about the panhandler’s viewpoint regarding this experience?

20)If we see the project as an exchange of equality since the artist is giving the homeless the opportunity to live like a simple human being for a day, how does participation of their naked body as the humanity factor rather than their persona violate this equality?

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