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Unit RPHC4002

Presentation and Prints


The Scrapheap of Life

My Concept
For our next Commission Unit, our assignment was Waste. Whereas someone might automatically think of Waste as being household rubbish, I decided to represent Waste by focusing on the Waste of Human Life. I felt this is especially true for young people, not from dying, but from being left on the scrap heap of life. More often than not, through no fault of their own.

The Issue
Britain has had a homeless problem for as long as records have been kept. As far back as the 7th century, a law was passed to punish vagrants very harsh as its usually through no fault of their own. It was forbidden by William the Conqueror for anyone to leave the land where they worked, and Edward I ordered weekly searches to round up vagrants.

In the 1930s it was thought there were 17,000 people in spikes (local authority dormitory housing) around the country.
Only 80 homeless people were found sleeping rough during a street count one night in London.

However, instead of statistics improving over time as should be expected, things have got worse. By the 1980s, around 20,000 people were living in homeless accommodation, but the numbers of homeless sleeping on the streets had risen to more than 1,000.

It is difficult to get an absolute figure for the number of rough sleepers. One reason is that they tend to hide away in order to protect themselves. This is especially true for women.

However, we do know the figure continues to climb.

The charity, Crisis, commissioned a review of single homelessness. It found: there was a total of 2,309 people sleeping out on any one night in Autumn 2012 across England. This represents a 31% rise from Autumn 2010. London records the biggest increase of the last two years of 60%.

However, these figures fall short of what local agencies report over a course of a year. In London alone, 6,437 people were reported sleeping rough during 2012/2013. The next slide shows just how figures are rising.

Many homeless people are intelligent members of society with lots to offer. Many rough sleepers may have been skilled workers, paying taxes and contributing to the economy. Many may have been living perfectly respectable lives going about their day to day business until circumstances led them to become homeless. Circumstances can change anybodys life .

Walking around various places I saw this particular group of people with a look of despair, sadness and loneliness. It made me realise my concept was correct - these are people who feel they are on the scrapheap of life. Almost invisible to the general public.

In my opinion, it is the young homeless whose lives are being wasted.

It is this group of people that need the most help, so that as soon as they find themselves in this situation they can get back on track and live the life they deserve.

Going back to the source of their problem would be more beneficial before they find themselves in the position of sinking into a downward spiral of helplessness and hopelessness.

Therefore, I decided to focus mainly on photographing young people. I wanted my images to show the Waste of Life in that so many young people are left to feel desolation and despair. Unless more is done to help this group of people there will be more and more WASTED LIVES in our society.

My Research
I began to research photographers to see how they capture the emotions of the homeless person through their shots.

As my images also had to portray the emotions of the subject, the research and visual references were significant in that they made it clear how to achieve this by focusing on the face.

I looked at Steve Huff whose images told exactly of the despair felt by this group of people. The cut to the face and the lack of care to the teeth portray the effects of homelessness.

Lee Jeffries is another photographer of the homeless. He likes to connect with his subjects by gaining their trust first and shows their despair through the eyes. He feels this is the most important element in telling the story of the image. He does enhance his photos afterwards to achieve even more impact.

All the images taken show similarities, the blackened skin where they have not been able to wash, overgrown facial hair, and quite often injuries of one type or another. All use close ups to achieve the effect they want to portray.

The majority of the photographers I looked at use black and white film.
I feel this has the effect of portraying the darker world they inhabit.

In this image by Michael Pharoah, he has used a colour film for this shot, it seems to give a softer feel to the image.

One of the most important factors I learnt from my research was that all the photographers I looked at had taken close ups deliberately to depict the story within the face. The focus on the eyes seems to capture the true emotion within the person.

Looking at the work of these photographers made me realise that to convey what I want to show, my shots need to be close up to get across the true feeling of the desolation and waste of the subjects life.

I needed to show the persons emotions through their eyes in the same way these photographers do.
Also, I used black and white film for my shots to get the same dark and sinister effect that my research showed.

For the next part of my research I looked at two more photographers. Gillian Waring, a British photographer and Anthony Luvera, an Australian, based in London. They both photograph people but in different ways.

Waring bases her idea of photographing strangers in the street by asking them to hold up a piece of paper with a message on that they had written. The contrast between the image the public perceives of that person, compared to their inner thoughts was explored and reveals a huge consistency.

For example, one photo shows a policeman who would automatically be seen as brave and fearless in his role, but has actually written HELP on his paper.

Another shows a man in a business suit looking confident and assured. Again, the image portrayed to a stranger would be a person who is confident and in charge of his life. However, the message IM DESPERATE tells what he is really thinking.

This gave me the idea of asking my subjects to write down how they feel the public sees them. I felt this could add another dimension to my shots.

Anthony Luveras approach is to photograph homeless people, but turning the camera on themselves to create an assisted self portrait.
He believes that the homeless feel they do not have a voice. Therefore, by turning the camera on themselves, he offers them a voice.

I felt that this could have been another approach that could work when I took my photographs, again adding a different dimension to the shot.

For my first test shots I located a lady with two dogs sitting in a doorway and a man leaning on a shop window. After making sure they didnt mind me photographing them, I used my Nikon digital camera and took the images in colour.

I then edited them so that they were black and white to achieve the effect I wanted.

I was pleased with the results, especially the black and white ones as I felt these showed more emotion, although the shot of the lady would have been improved if I had zoomed in closer. However, I did want to capture the two dogs either side of her which I felt portrayed that image of homeless people having dogs with them for protection. Also, the shopping trolley next to her brought home the idea of the homeless having all their possessions with them.

If the reflections in the glass were not there they would have been better, although the black and white edits did not show this up as much.

For my second test shoot, I managed to photograph three separate people using both cameras each time. First, I introduced myself and explained what I was doing and asked if they would be happy to take part. I then used the light meter to measure the light and shot my subjects with the Bronica.

I then used my digital camera to take shots as a back up as I was not confident the Bronica shots would be good enough.

For these shots, I had intended to experiment with Gillian Warings message written on a card theme. I felt that this could really progress my project.
However, this proved difficult. I had to assess the reaction of the people I approached and decide whether I felt this was appropriate or whether they might feel I was being condescending. Because I had to use two cameras to take shots and explain that I had to set up the light meter to get a correct reading, I felt that asking them to write a message on a board, like Gillian Waring, was a step too far.

The photos I took on my digital camera were good.

However, I was not happy with the shots I took with the Bronica as the exposures were very disappointing.

They were under exposed.

To improve my images, I returned to the last person that I had shot the previous day and, luckily, he was in the same spot. This time I tried to be more careful measuring the light. However, when I came to develop them, the film was blank! I was told this was through no fault of my own. The exposures were numbered but no images had been captured.

As I had the digital shots, I made Digital A Negatives from these.

I am really happy with the results for the following reasons:

The process gave a more contrasting and gritty image to the shots. The black border gives a sense of compression and heaviness to the subject, which I feel works well with the concept.

It also appears to give a sense of them being trapped and isolated in their own wasteland.