Me and my camera in my home town, my capital city, my london
The photograph above says it all. A homeless man sleeps outside the showroom of a luxury block of flats in Camden. It feels like the last defiant gesture of someone who has had everything else stripped away.
You don’t need to read the stats to know homelessness has increased, you can see it with your own eyes. And when you do read the stats you wonder quite how it could have got so much worse so quickly. Its up 657% in the borough of Camden alone where this picture was taken and up over 169% across the country since 2010. So much of it is to with the appalling mismanagement of universal credit and the change in housing benefit payments which use to go to the landlord and now go to the claimant, both of which have caused people to fall into arrears and be consequently evicted where they wouldn’t have been before. Add in austerity cuts to welfare and mental health services and there are now tons more people on the street that previously would have had accommodation.
This rise in street sleepers across the country has been documented in the media at the same time when they have just revealed that half of the luxury flats built in last ten years are vacant and will most likely remain so. That is in addition to the 75,000 odd buildings in London that are already empty. They changed the law to remove squatters rights but maybe its time to reinstate them because this situation is beyond broken and we need to create immediate solutions as well as long term ones.
We are now really starting to see the cost of the draconian cuts that have been implemented by the tories for a decade plus and they have all resulted in creating crisis in all the services that have been stripped bare. The tragic thing is that none of these cuts has resulted in any significant drop in the deficit and the money that will be now be spent dealing with the fall out will undoubtedly be far greater than anything they saved by underfunding it in the first place.
It is painful to see in a city that has so much wealth and such a disparity of it. And its friggin freezing out there at the moment. The worst thing is you are getting asked for money at every turn in london it is so difficult to work out who really needs and who doesn’t. Even when you do give them a pound or whatever you can you wonder how on earth can that help them? A bit of coinage will not solve this problem. It requires a government who is serious about tackling the causes that got them on the street in the first place, namely their own policies. Until they own up to that and abandon them or at least acknowledge the pitfalls and find ways to stop people falling through the cracks there is no forward.
I have not really photographed anyone living on the streets for a few years as came to the conclusion there possibly an element of ‘poverty porn’ associated with street photography which focussed on the homeless. You might be wanting to highlight their plight but if you do nothing with those photographs other than post them you are in some ways draining the emotional content of your subject’s lives for the benefit of your feed. If it doesn’t change anything why continue to do it? How does it help? And yet, the problem does need highlighting and cannot be ignored so am not digging at anyone who is trying. There is however a balance between observation, exploitation and voyeurism that it is often an impossible tight rope to tread. As a documentarian there is no guidebook, you must just follow your own instincts and try to walk the thin line as best you can. It is for this reason I personally have chosen to keep the people predominantly absent from these pictures. And also to highlight how they are often invisible to so many who pass them…