We’re in a cultural moment where street photography has been elevated to a status that’s double-edged: On one hand, your Weegees and your Vivian Maiers definitely had their propers coming, but on the other, the age of the Instagram street photog is often an artless hustle that stands at the crossroads of dilettantism and gentrification. Scroll through your feed and you’re going to see ruins porn, poverty/class porn, street art gone middle class, and a whole bunch of other garbage that, frankly, is bad for you. At the root of all street photography, though, is one honest thing: Voyeurism. And though there is plenty that’s queasy-making about this strange Instagram account @themotherandson that just came across my desk, there is a dark honesty about it, and thus, its milieu.
To put a fine point on it. The Mother and Son are, by the looks of it, a down on their luck duo peeped regularly by some photog on the streets of Fishtown who catches the pair with some frequency as they appear to run various errands. There is something of the criminal surveillance in these photos — think of the standard imagery of FBI mob photos — and that is definitely not okay. The whole fucking thing is not okay, actually. It’s creepy as fuck. And yet, there is something compelling here, some story that clearly lurks here, as well as a tenderness at its core that makes this surveillance all the more shameful. Who are the mother and son? Where are they going? Why are they always together?
Well, the fact is, it’s none of our business. By contrast, one imagines that The Majestic Gentleman wants to be seen; The Mother and Son can’t help but be seen because they stick out like sore thumbs in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that’s falling all over itself to show people like The Mother and Son the door. And yet, The Mother and Son persist. Good for them. And shame on you.