His portraits of the street people who populate the Mission district had been Hanson's weekend project for the last six months, and the gallery owners were only too happy to show his work. Hanson, who grew up in the north of England and had worked in London, where he saw his share of down-and-out people, of course, found himself compelled to shoot the Mission's residents-drug and alcohol abusers and prostitutes-through motivations both artistic and humanitarian. "I always give people money, and I know that a lot of it goes to drugs, so I do try to buy them lunch," Hanson says. "I've taken this one woman that I know well now to the methadone clinic. I also took her to a hotel room one night so that she wouldn't be on the street. She's a prostitute, so when I went to pay for her room the bellman said, 'It's five dollars for you and fifteen for her.' I laughed, because I just wanted to get her a room for the night."
As he's learned the names and stories of the Mission's residents-who include a man named Bruce who once had his throat slit from ear to ear, and who was arrested moments after Hanson photographed him-Hanson says he's gained quite a bit of perspective on life. "I have empathy," he says. "There have been successful people who have lost everything through alcohol or drug abuse. I've wrestled with why I've been doing it and putting the pictures up on walls, and I've been talking to people while I've been shooting them. They've told me that when I'm engaging them it gives them a sense of worth. When I did my opening, there were 21 images on the wall, and I knew every person by name, with a snippet of their history, with the exception of two." The show closed Oct. 28, but Hanson plans to show more of his 2,000 Mission photos in the future.