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View from the street

August 7, 2009

Some people stop and make a donation, most continue on their way. Professional photographer Thomas Struth teamed up with homeless vendors in Dusseldorf to reveal another side of the city.

A woman holds a small camera with a large flash
The participants learned photography skills in the processImage: dpa

Click on the link below to see photographs from the exhibition.

Thomas Struth and Rudolf Druschke are an unlikely combination. One is an internationally acclaimed artist and Germany's most famous photographer. The other earns his living by selling Fifty-Fifty, a Dusseldorf-based street magazine created to provide an income for its homeless vendors.

Druschke first met Struth five years ago, at the start of the project now known as "Homeless People Photograph Passers-By." The idea was to give Fifty-Fifty sellers a camera and to ask them to photograph their world - the streets they stand on day after day and the people who pass them by.

Struth himself gave on-the-job master classes to the participants, whose work is now on show in Dusseldorf's Stadtmuseum.

"He was a complete perfectionist," said Druschke of Struth. "I'd take photo after photo, but he'd still ask me to try again."

Success story

Rudolf Druschke
Street vendor Rudolf Druschke always has a smile for his customersImage: Thomas Struth / Fifty-Fifty Zeitung

Druschke's pitch is in downtown Dusseldorf, near the Woolsworths convenient store. In his mid-fifties with a gentle face, intelligent eyes and a warm smile, he's something of a local treasure. He has built up a base of loyal customers who come to him as much for his advice as for his newspaper.

"Thomas Struth seemed outraged that I could have ended up on the streets," said Druschke. "He kept asking how it was possible. I think he learned a lot from the project - a lot about people."

Druschke's story is typical of many of the project's participants: a family tragedy led to alcoholism, an addiction which cost him first his job, then his home and his relationship with his wife and children.

Encouraged by the friendship and support of his customers, however, Druschke has now turned his life around. He has a new partner and is working on a book which, he said, is both an autobiography and a collection of stories about the people he meets on the street. One day, he hopes his children will read it and understand.

A different view

Others have not been so lucky. Several of the homeless people who contributed to the exhibition have since died as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. For many more, life on the streets remains a daily struggle.

"Homeless People Photograph Passers-By" offers a portrait of the city - seen through the eyes of those who are normally invisible.

Often the photographs show shoppers walking briskly past, oblivious to the presence of the homeless person with the camera. Others are affectionate portraits of favorite customers - a woman proudly stroking her pregnant belly, another so close up to the camera that her "in-your-face" personality jumps out of the frame.

"Life on the streets is hard," said Druschke, "but a friendly face can make all the difference."

Photograph Thomas Struth's exhibition in the Dusseldorf Stadtmuseum
Dusseldorf's homeless know its nooks and cranniesImage: Thomas Struth/ Fifty-Fifty Zeitung

Author: Kate Laycock

Editor: Kate Bowen