There are fine pictures in LIFE every month, but we want to call special attention to the contributions of three photographers in this issue. The remarkable range of Mary Ellen Mark has never been more evident. On the cover is her portrait of a provocative Meryl Streep. Inside, Mark's powerful picture essay on a homeless California family is gritty photojournalism at its best. Of her session with Streep, Mark says, modestly, "She understands how to work with a camera, so she makes you look good as a photographer." Spending a week with a homeless family is a long way from a studio session with a film star. Mark learned that "the incredible stress of not knowing where you're going to be next is devastating." She shared some of that tension during a night the family slept in their car. Mark, recording the miserable evening, had a sleeping bag in a nearby van.
New York City's Times Square lies just a few blocks south of LIFE's offices. It is famous for its Broadway theaters, the electric billboards that turn it into a carnival midway nightly and its dark underside of seamy allure. Photographer Jan Staller was assigned the job of documenting this fantasy world before it disappears in a vast sweep of urban improvement. For a picture of the elegant Paramount Building, Staller wanted the globe on top lit for a night shot; it hadn't been illuminated since 1959. He got permission to install ten 150-watt bulbs-and they blew the fuse. "We had to wait a few hours until we hooked up to another circuit," he says, but the payoff for persistence comes on page 89.
Geoffrey Clifford was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war. On his first postwar trip back to that country, he says, he decided the war had been a mistake. Two subsequent visits enhanced his appreciation of the land. "I find the people peaceful and trustworthy. They do business on a handshake. I always thought it was a beautiful country, even when I was there during the war." He makes his point with a visually rich portfolio.
Any of these photographic essays could be exhibited in a museum. Perhaps someday they will be. But, first, enjoy them in LIFE.
Elizabeth P. Valk
A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A HOMELESS FAMILYA WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A HOMELESS FAMILY
by Anne Fadiman
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
The Trimar Blood Center. With the exception of Runtley, whom Dean says he would never sell, the only valuable possession the Damms have left is their blood. Dean has sold whole blood once and plasma six times in the last month. Today he lies on a reclining chair, closes his eyes while 500cc of blood are pumped from his right arm, and waits an hour while the blood is centrifuged and the red blood cells returned to his bloodstream. Dean says he enjoys selling plasma because he is given free Kool-Aid and muffins, and because, with the exception of his school, the blood center is the only clean place he ever goes. When he leaves he gets $10 in cash.
The Valley Shelter. While Dean is at night school, learning the difference between amps, volts and ohms, Linda packs up the family's possessions. In one of the many bureaucratic absurdities they have encountered in their month of homelessness, they are being evicted because they have children. The federal grant that subsidizes shelter fees for families has just expired. If they were childless, the county would pay for an entire month's stay.
The Damms have no luggage. Linda stuffs their clothes into six plastic grocery bags that say, "Congratulations! You're walking out the door with verified savings!" Jesse, who often responds to stress by being especially solicitous of his mother, kneels on the floor and starts folding his T-shirts and pants, many of which came from charitable agencies and fit him only approximately. Crissy, who tends to become hyperactive whenever she sees her parents start to pack, rolls wildly on the bed.
Linda takes Crissy in her arms and rocks her back and forth.
“Where will we sleep tomorrow?" asks Crissy.
Jesse says, "I don't want to sleep on the street. I'll be hit by a car."
“We're not sleeping on the street," says Linda. "We're going camping. We'll hunt for froggies and toast marshmallows. Its going to be real fun."
"I'm not sleeping outside," says Crissy. "A snake will eat me."
"Runtley will protect you, honey."
"The snake will eat Runtley."
THURSDAY. County of Los Angeles Social Services. This is Dean's fifth visit to the welfare department, whose official code reads, "Aid shall be so administered ... as to encourage self-respect, self-reliance, and the desire to be a good citizen, useful to society." Because the office misplaced Dean's birth affidavit, their first welfare check was delayed. Their second check, for their full monthly grant of $753, was accompanied by a mysterious check for $102, the result of a computer error. They were told they immediately had to make the 30-mile round trip to the welfare office to return the $102.
Holding the erroneous check in one hand and Jesse's hand in the other, Dean stands in one line, gets sent to another line and then waits in an office directly under a sign that says, "Courtesy is contagious." Finally a supervisor named Mrs. Finklestein appears, takes the $102 check and tells him she cannot explain why his first check was delayed. On the way out he sits on the security guard's desk. The guard orders him to stand.
"I'm sick of your goddamn system!" yells Dean. "You're jerking my family around! You're treating us like garbage! We are not garbage!"
U-Save Auto Parts. As he pays $1.75 for a quart of brake fluid, Dean tells the man behind the cash register about an accident Linda had Monday night. A Datsun driven by a man Dean calls the Iranian slammed into the Skylark and left a large dent. "I'd like to beat that Iranian's brains out," says Dean. "But I'd go to jail, and then where would my family be?"
She cannot hide her 20 tattoos