A year ago I took part in a project called Hollywood Homeless which was a collaboration between the Fab Collective, Urban Strawberry Lunch and homeless people in Liverpool. The pitch was to educate homeless people in the basics of photography so they could produce an exhibition of their work.
I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do because I’m not a teacher. I’m a photographer. I put a lot of pressure on myself for this project, possibly too much. I strongly believed that what these guys needed was someone to inspire them in life more so than photography. I’m just a photographer. I’m not a teacher, psychologist, healer, social worker or anything like that. I just take photos. I just didn’t think that it was something I could do. I learnt a lot on this project.
The first part of the project was to teach these guys photography. Each day we started at St Lukes and headed off around town. We would educate them on the basics of composition and light. They only had cheap digital cameras but they were enough to do the job. I decided that my role in this project was to document. There are people in the Fab Collective who are teachers, carers, and have had previous experience working with people in this way. So I kept out their way, let them do what they do best and I did what I do best which is to document.
Not everyone was open to being photographed at first. The above photo seems hostile but she was only joking with me. Once the ice was broken everyone was happy to be photographed.
We went on the ferry and to almost every major photo spot in town. It was quite amazing to see them in action. They had no fear or limits. As photographers we’re always aware of light and composition. It can tie us down some days, but for these guys they knew no boundaries. Anything that took their fancy they would photograph. That involved standing in the middle of the road and lying all over the place if need be. They were loving it and over the course of the project I got to know them better.
My understanding of what a ‘homeless’ person was changed. I guess its easy to label everyone the same when your only interaction with homeless people is the guy asleep in a doorway. A very narrow minded view which I’m ashamed of. Not everyone is that person though. Some homeless people are simply homeless for one reason or another. Others do live on the street and it becomes their world. They seem to exist outside of normal society and the streets are a very different place for them than us. An example of which is that they find bottles with some form of liquid in that they stash around the city. To us it might seem like a random near empty bottle left on a wall but its probably been left for a reason. A very different world.
Other people are simply without a home. They have a bed at a hostel. For some reason something went wrong in their life and they had to leave it behind. At this time of year when we’re all worried about getting food, presents, beer for Christmas its a harsh reminder that it could only take something simple for you to lose it all.
Over the course of a few weeks the Fab Collective went out with the homeless. It was cold but people were smiling. I think it was hard for me to document because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything to help. I could only stand there and see others do good work. Of course I interacted but I think because of the pressure I put on myself I never felt like I was helping. I mean how could I really help?
Thankfully everyone else in Fab was brilliant. We walked the streets and at the end of each session we would return to St Lukes to download the photos. This was the point where everyone got to see their photographs.
It was great. They could see what they had achieved and it really meant something. After each trip you couldn’t move for a crowd around the laptop. Everyone wanted to see what photographs people had taken. There was laughter, smiles, and jokes. At the end of the day we knew that we’d given the homeless that.
Its been a year since I took these photos and worked with them. I could only spare a few days to help but it did affect me. I see familiar faces around town. I don’t know if they remember any of us as some are heavy drinkers. Its a constant for some of them. Some do and we talk. Its nice to know we did make a difference. I’ve heard that at least one or two people are now homed. They’ve got their own place now which is fantastic. Unfortunately though others weren’t so lucky.
This is Pip. He was a nice guy who always joked with me when I took a photo of him. He died earlier this year and he wasn’t the only one.
The project continued with music and photography at St Lukes. The homeless learned to play the drums on empty barrels and performed a few pieces at St Lukes and around town. They achieved so much and I’m really proud of them. You might see them around town. Some sell the Big Issue on Bold St. Some will be at St Lukes from time to time. I’m not going to end with some cliche like have a heart or it could be you. I’m just going to say a big thanks to Liz at Urban Strawberry Lunch for putting this on. It wasn’t easy but it was rewarding.