Art exhibition showcases homeless people's photos throughout lockdown
An exhibition showcasing photographs from homeless people during the UK’s coronavirus lockdowns has given them an income boost and provided an “utterly unique” perspective on the pandemic.
Out Of Home was devised by photography hobbyist Dan Barker and his wife Lucy Wood, whose photographs have featured in the Royal Academy.
The couple paid six people £20 for each camera they filled with photographs.
The pictures, taken from largely empty streets across usually bustling London, are now on display in an outdoor exhibition at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
The images are also being sold as individual prints and have even been compiled into a 65-page book.
The profits from all these uses will go to the photographers, with a portion also going to the church near Trafalgar Square, to aid its work in helping the homeless.
“The work they’ve produced is utterly unique… people like you and me showing what life has been like, without a home, at a time we were all told to ‘stay at home’,” Mr Barker told the PA news agency.
Joe Pengelly, a homeless man based in Covent Garden, would usually sell The Big Issue but was unable to due to coronavirus restrictions.
Instead he has been reliant on a combination of the £300 he receives each month in benefits and begging on predominantly empty streets.
“Obviously, the income’s a good thing, but it’s not the main thing… now I’ll get known for something other than just begging or being homeless,” the 32-year-old told PA.
“There’s another side to me, and hopefully people will see that… there’s another side to everyone on the streets.”
Mr Pengelly has been staying in a hostel for £120 per month during the pandemic, but he said the temporary accommodation is “the sort of place that can kick you out without an excuse”.
“When the lockdown started it was a nightmare… it was like a nuclear bomb had wiped out all but a tenth of London’s population,” Mr Pengelly added.
“(The hostel) might sort a roof over your head, but it still doesn’t sort out where, where you’re going to get any finance from.”
Mr Pengelly said he was most proud of a photograph he took of three police officers in high-visibility jackets as they asked him to move along.
He also picked out a perspective shot taken while he was reading a book on the street in his sleeping bag.
One of the photographers, named Kelly, died unexpectedly aged 39 during the making of the project, after just recently using the money she had saved to pay for longer-term accommodation.
“The last picture on her roll is in the dark… it’s just her foot walking in the dark,” Mr Barker said.
“That was the last picture she took and the last time I heard from her. It haunts me a bit.”
Government statistics show the average age of death for a homeless woman in the UK is 43, and Mr Barker said Kelly’s death highlights the difficulties of living on the streets, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Another man who took part, Darren Fairbrass, said the public’s perceptions of homeless people changed during the pandemic.
“People have changed… they seemed to think because I’m homeless and sleeping on the streets that I must have this Covid virus,” the 37-year-old said.
“People seemed to get scared if I was to approach them. Thankfully there were still a few that treated me as if I was a human still, and stopped, even just for a chat.”
Mr Fairbrass said life “completely disappeared” from central London during the lockdown, but the cameras made life easier and provided for him and his dog, Indie.
“I’ve lost count how many cameras I have actually filled, I just know it’s a lot and have had fun doing them and made life out here a bit easier,” he added.
Those who took part in the project were told to take pictures of things they find interesting, and not to spend more than one hour and 45 minutes on it each day – to ensure the work was paid at the London Living Wage.
They were given one camera per day, but this was flexible where pay could help, and altogether thousands of photographs were taken.
The exhibition Out Of Home is free and open from Thursday to Sunday and on bank holidays.