The sheer bloody unfairness of it all (or why I take photographs of the homeless when there are lots of prettier things)
The last video I uploaded onto Vimeo http://vimeo.com/71616406 was different in tone from the others and created some interesting responses in viewers. It reflected what had been for me a growing sense of the scale of those left behind or abandoned in the USA. Not just in urban settings such as Los Angeles and San Diego, but also in the vast hot spaces in the South West between those places. I found myself reflecting more and more on how these people had come to have these lives and the certainty that this is what none of them aspired to. It was also driven by reading ‘The Unwinding: An inner history of the new America’ by George Packer, a journalist on the New York Times. The Guardian review is here:
Whilst this didn’t deal specifically with homelessness, it did explore the unpacking of the American dream that had been sold so hard for so long – if you work hard and play by the rules you can achieve whatever you wish for.
However, the urge to capture and craft these images came from a more personal place, and a little background is probably in order.
When my parents separated and subsequently divorced, my mother moved myself and my brother back to the family home in Wales, where for the first 6 months we lived with my Grandmother.
We were eventually rehoused by the council, and lived for two years on benefits (or for my American readers, Welfare). For those of you of the Daily Mail persuasion, we were scroungers living off the state.
In addition to the housing, council tax allowance and unemployment benefit we received, I was also given a school uniform allowance and free school meals.
And then I met an inspirational teacher who convinced me I had some talents I could put to good use, but that I needed to go to college to develop them.
Being on benefits meant that going to college, I had all my tuition fees paid, and in addition received a grant of £700 per annum as a living allowance (about £3000 in today’s money allowing for inflation). Not a lot to live on in Central London, but with beer at 40 pence a pint, a copy of ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’ by Katherine Whitehorn, having a job and working most weekends, it was OK; (younger readers, ask an older person what a bedsitter was, whether beer really was that price, but more significantly about the idea of a government encouraging people to use education as a tool for social mobility without ending in a sea of debt.)
The opportunity afforded by going to college and learning a lot, combined with a few pieces of good luck; a chance meeting with an old friend who was working for a company looking to employ someone like me; getting work with that company that was well paid, fulfilling and matched my skills and personality; finding a way to turn that into a way of working for myself and building a consultancy business; meeting and marrying someone who shared my values and outlook on life, and was willing to put up with my demons.
Yes, I know it's about making the most of the opportunities, but for some those opportunities just don't come.
These are the lives I tried to record.