Pictures in the Book

Homeless girl with bag standing outside cafe

The magnificent faces of the homeless people I met on the streets really reflect something important. I hope I did them justice.

Why photographs?

For me, the pictures I took are nearly as powerful as the words spoken to me by the homeless people who gave up their stories for the book. Images, especially their portraits, just seem to say so much. The lives they’re forced to live are scratched, one way or another, across all their faces.

face of homeless girl smoking outside cafe
Beth, portrait

Homeless black man talking
Patrick, portrait

pretty young homeless girl in biker jacket
Melissa, portrait

Daniel, distressed

bearded homeless man in hat
Eddy, portrait

Difficulties of ‘street photography’

There are so many aspects of this kind of photography that I absolutely love. There are no second chances – no way you can ask a person in these situations to repeat whatever it was they were saying or doing – and half the time I had no idea at all if the shot would be any good.

The physical conditions are about as tough as they can be. As I was doing this work in late autumn and into winter, it was very often so cold my fingers were a bit numb (not great when you’re handling a camera!) and rain was a constant challenge for the lens. I had no control over lighting or things/other people who got into the shots sometimes so it was all, frankly, a bit hit and miss. But that’s the thrill, the magic – you are working by ‘seat of your pants’ and the feeling of being somehow inside the story is incredible. I’d say it was almost poetic but that’d be cheesy, right?!

The ethics of the photography

It was often a potentially ‘lose-lose’ situation – take a picture and risk being offensive, or don’t take the picture and lose the moment, that split second when a person’s face is saying something greater than the sum of their spoken words. Just so you know, everyone whose picture you see in the book, gave their permission. I talk a bit in the book about the morality of this kind of work – it’s a complex and sensitive issue.

face of middle aged homeless man
Steve Young, portrait

homeless woman in public toilet talking
Kerry chatting to me in a public loo

portrait of homeless man with expressive eyes
Tim, portrait

Elderly homeless couple in bedding on street
Jane and Kenny, portrait

People have often asked, ‘How did you convince people to pose?’ The answer was, ‘I didn’t.’ Ever. I tried to make everyone feel comfortable with the camera, letting them hold it and so on, but it was always a tough decision as to when I pressed the shutter and took the shot.

Some people wouldn’t let me record them or take their photograph, but not once during a conversation that was agreed on and underway did anyone say, ‘Look, do you mind not pointing that at me. Get it out of my face and just listen to what the fuck I’m telling you?’

Credit to them all.

homeless man asleep in cardboard
Brock, in his bed

pet ferret in canvas bag
Pet ferret

old homeless woman's hand on bed roll
Hand on sleeping mat

homeless man sitting outside busy theatre at night

young homeless girl showing torso wounds
Beth’s torso wounds