Wednesday, 29 February 2012

seeing the blind...

Today I spent the afternoon at a visually impaired shooting session at Helston and District Rifle Club with Joe Stinton, a thirty-seven-year-old man who lives in Helston, a small town outside of Falmouth. Unlike the majority of the shooters present today, Joe is completely blind. Despite this, he has been shooting since 1999, stopping only momentarily when his child was born. He has been selected twice to compete in the World Championships, and on Friday he will be joining the rest of the Helston team to compete at the British Blind Shooting Championship in Wolverhampton.

Joe relies on a laser fixed to the gun's barrel  to 'see'. The laser points towards the target, resulting in a high pitched noise to be relayed to the headset; the higher the pitch, the closer he is pointing to the centre of the target. Once all his shots are fired, the target is pulled back to the Joe via the rope and pulley system for inspection.   

There are two disciplines in blind shooting: Supported and Unsupported. Quite self-explanatory, Supported shooting is with the use of a tripod and a chair; Unsupported is with neither. Of course, shooting unsupported is far harder, and only Joe and one other shooter at the club are skilled enough to do it. 

Helper Kieth Busby acts as Joe's eyes when initially aiming the gun towards the target. After that, it is all down to Joe.

A perfect score of fifty. Joe gets five shots before the round is over; the bullseye is worth ten points. During the competition this weekend, however, the competitors will only have two shots per target, with thirty targets to hit under timed conditions. 

Joe is surprisingly efficient at manoeuvring, and only needs help when traversing larger distances and attempting tasks which require more dexterity than average.  

Joe celebrated his thirty-seventh birthday two days ago.

This was a fascinating shoot to say the least, and I think Joe is a brilliant guy. He was more than happy for me to be there and we are meeting again next week, at which time I plan to capture more of his day-to-day life. 


Sunday, 26 February 2012


So things have slowed down a bit since the influx of comments and page views I received after posting my work from the Newquay shoot. I would like anyone who is interested to know that I am still continuing the project, however it is going to be a longer process then I previously imagined. And for those of you who care, that post has received over 300 hits and has got a couple of comments from civilians of Newquay, not to mention the fact that Denise - the ex-social worker - got in contact with me via this blog to help me with the project.  

I have visited the homless guys in Newquay three times now, each visit being averagely six hours in length; however, during this roughly eighteen hours of contact time I have only shot one roll of film. It is going to be more difficult than I anticipated to fully gain their trust, and I have not yet reached the point where I feel completely comfortable pressing the shutter. Sometimes I get frustrated, and think "why am I really here", but then I remind myself that this is quite different to anything I have done before and that these people have every right not to be comfortable with me yet. It's funny, really, each time I leave I feel a pang of disappointment because I didn't shoot anything, but then I think of how far I have come already in terms of trust - I have already gained the nickname 'Paparazzi', and word of my presence has apparently spread - and I am filled with a new sense of determination to keep on returning and fulfilling what I have set out to do. It's almost addictive, in a strange way -  I always look forward to my next visit, knowing that I probably won't be able to comfortably photograph again, but I will be one step closer to doing so.

Next weekend should hopefully see a breakthrough; I will (hopefully) be spending the day with 'Chris the Fish', a rough sleeper who works on a charter fishing boat. He does not get paid for the work, but - in his words - "it keeps me off the street and out of trouble". It is a great example of how willing some of these people can be, and I really hope that I can get permission from the skipper of the vessel to allow me to come on board. 

I have come to realise, also, that the only way for me to be completely accepted in to this community - and to really experience what it is like to be homeless - then I need to rough sleep with them. I have had this thought in the back of my mind since I started this project, and it is only now that I fully realise it is exactly what I need to do. If I am to tell their story it can't be from me just turning up on the train every Wednesday and Saturday and then going home again in the evening - that would be hypocritical of me to say the least. I need to immerse myself in their lives, to feel what it is like to sleep in a shelter or a squat or an abandoned caravan or a tent on the headland. Only then will I be able to photograph their story. [pause for effect. end of dramatic speech]


Saturday, 18 February 2012

burger king breakfasts and horizontal rain...

Today I travelled to Newquay to meet with Denise Harrison in order to discuss plans for my on-going documentation of the homeless in the resort town. Denise is an ex - but by no means abdicated - drugs/alcohol support worker. She is currently working as a waitress, but plans to be returning to the care industry very soon - by any means necessary!

As I mentioned in my previous post, Denise came across my blog - and subsequently my article about the homeless - after a friend of hers came across my site. She immediately emailed me, asking if I would work along-side her to raise awareness about these troubled people of who she cares very dearly. Denise's dedication to these people is quite astounding, equal only to the infamous reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright of St. Clumb Minor church. In fact, Denise and Chris are close friends, and have been working together for a long time in an attempt to help those who do not have a roof over their head. It is at this point, however, that I regret to say that Chris' night shelter scheme for the homeless at his church has been closed down due to the bombardment of abuse, trouble and stress that he received after selflessly helping these people. All the more reason for this to go ahead, me and Denise cogitated.

I was to meet Denise at St. Columb Minor Church at 10:30am to kick things off. After digressing immediately after arriving in Newquay for a Burger King breakfast (x1 bacon, egg and cheese muffin, x1 coffe) I arrived at said church for a twenty-to-eleven. We got talking right away about our plans. The first thing I wanted to make clear was that this was going to be a long process; it would most likely be weeks before I gained the full trust of these people in order to create a portfolio of work that was strong enough and intimate enough. The second thing I made clear was that I would need Denise's help only in gaining preliminary access to the homeless, via the extensive contacts she has in the soup kitchens and charity distributions across Newquay. After that, I would hope to reach the point where I could simply turn up to a soup kitchen, or even just a street corner, and begin photographing straight away, alone, without the people wondering who I am. It is only when I reach this level of trust that I will be able to get the most intimate work.

Then Denise hit me with a bombshell - or rather, two bombshells. Firstly She has already been in contact with a gallery in the town centre who are more than willing to exhibit my work once it is complete. I spoke to the owner of the gallery later on that afternoon, and this was indeed the case. Secondly: Denise has gotten in contact with the managers of the likes of Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner to organise pop-up gigs in the St. Columb Minor church to help raise funds for the homeless-helping organisations - events at which I would also exhibit my work. She was so enthusiastic, in fact, that she even went as far as to email my work to the guys themselves. How that will go down remains to be seen. If we could pull it off, it would be amazing, but don't quote me on this.

Needless to say, after Denise dropped the latter bombshell, I was nearly rendered speechless. I'm not quite sure how this has all happened, but I liked it. 

After we finished conjuring up all sorts of whimsical ideas, Denise decided that she would show me a few spots where I would most likely be spending a lot of time over the next few months. We made our way in to the town centre to see if we could find any of the regulars hanging out at the L shape on the barrow fields, just outside of Newquay town centre. On the way, Denise gave me a swift low-down of how she ended up out of the care business - predominantly through the recent 40% spending cuts in the public sector.

It was at this point in time the Cornish weather system decided that it was bored with regular climes, and instead it decided to rain horizontally and painfully; this is an occurrence that I am by now more than accustomed to.

We did in fact find what we were looking for at the L shape: three or so rough sleepers sitting and socialising. One of them was Lee Parkinson, whom I photographed the week before. This made the introductions a lot swifter and easier, and before long me and Denise were chatting to them and explaining to them what we were planning to do over the coming months. Of course, we were met by scepticism and accusations of ulterior motives at first - and rightly so, people in their position have every right not to trust everyone who comes their way. However, after I explained to the others how I photographed Lee the other day - and the dropping of the name 'Chris the Vic' - we were well on our way to getting a positive response. This encounter made me realise just how difficult it may be to gain the rough sleepers' complete trust, however, and as we left the group behind I was hit with a sense of tangible realisation, and not to mention awareness of the fact that this is the first time I will be dealing with a real-life subject off my own back. This was an especially poignant feeling after the initial jubilation of the morning's excitement.

The rest of the day was spent battling with the Cornish maelstrom, going to Subway and meeting up with the owner of the gallery which Denise spoke of earlier that morning. Appropriately titled The Gallery, the humble space, which is situated in Central Square at the heart of Newquay, is run by Ruth Arron. I showed her my recent work with the rough sleepers, and she was delighted to discuss my exhibiting there. Once again, I made it clear that it would most likely be several months before I come even close to having an exhibit-able body of work. She understood, and told me to keep in touch.

My next visit to Newquay - and most likely the official start of my project - will be on Wednesday next week, where Denise plans to introduce me to the good people who run the charitable soup kitchens at St. Michael's church.

I've written too much.


Thursday, 16 February 2012

the homeless of newquay + Lee Jeffries - portraits of the homeless

I have received nearly 200 hits since I posted my photographs from my day spent with the homeless of Newquay, and an overwhelmingly positve response - by my standards at least - from those who viewed it. I have also received quite a bit of attention from those outside my circle of friendship and tutors here at the university. This morning I received an email from a woman who works as a drugs and alcohol officer with homeless people in the Newquay area. She explained to me how a friend emailed the blog post to her from the proverbial grape vine that is Facebook, seeing as she "lives and breathes homelessness". In the email she said that she is interested in working along-side me as I produce an on-going study of these people, which could culminate in exhibiting in the town and media coverage due to the fact she, quote: "knows people". The name BBC Spotlight was even mentioned, which got me fantasizing about all sorts of scenarios at half nine this morning, most of which ended in me becoming a rich and famous photographer... We'll see.

In all seriousness, she sounds like a very dedicated and passionate person. Combined with my passion for photography I believe we could produce something quite special. We will be meeting in Newquay this Saturday discuss her "plan". 

That aside, I am now beginning to think more deeply about how I want to go about creating my documentation of the homeless in Newquay, and where better to start then some good, old fashioned artist research. Below is some examples of work by amateur photographer Lee Jeffries, who has recently been creating a body of work based entirely around portraits of the homeless. So far he has visited London, Manchester, Rome, New York and, with his most recent work, Los Angeles and Miami.

Interestingly, Jeffries is not a professional photographer; by day he is an accountant in Manchester. When first viewing these images I thought that they had been shot on a medium format camera, as the image format would suggest; however, upon viewing his Flickr account, it turned out that they were all shot using a Canon 5D (respect). This means that Jeffries must have cropped his images to appear as though they had been shot medium format - something which I am not a fan of. In fact, I would say that Jeffries' only downfall would be that sometimes his images appear to be almost a little too over-produced, detracting from their raw environment slightly. Nonetheless, this does not belittle the fact that Jeffries has produced some stunningly detailed portraits which capture faces with great character and honesty. More of Jeffries' work can be seen on his Flickr account, here:

I especially like the profile portraits.
This has definitely inspired me on the portrait front; Jeffries explained how he always made sure he gave the subjects money as thanks. He also stated - in an interview with The Mail Online - that his main approach was to befriend the people. Unfortunately I think that these portraits alone do not give a sense of assimilation with these people, which is why my plan of action will be slow but sure integration with the homeless of Newquay to capture images which people do not see every day. Of course, part of this process will involve me making portraits of the homeless, but that is all part of the journalistic process of image-making and story-telling. What I want to achieve is a depth of reportage similar to the likes of Larry Towell's The Mennonites, Jim Goldberg's Raised by Wolves, Smith's Country Doctor, and, more recently, Jessica Dimmock's The Ninth Floor,


Sunday, 12 February 2012

the homeless of newquay...

It's becoming quite alarming how fast time has gone since I returned to Falmouth after the Christmas break. Just over a month has passed, and two weeks of my three-week project on relationships have been and gone. Even more worrying is that so far I have only shot one of the three required subjects for this assignment. Having said that, this one shoot turned out to be proverbial dynamite...

The day after I was given the brief I got in contact with a local vicar who has been sheltering the homeless in St. Columb Minor church near Newquay. On Sunday 6th February I spent the day with two of the rough sleepers who had been seeking shelter at the church for the past week or so: David Jones and Lee Parkinson . David and Lee showed me where they eat, sleep, drink and socialise. It's safe to say that the 8 hours I spent with them was probably one of the most interesting, insightful and eye-opening 8 hours I have had since beginning the Press & Editorial Photography course back in September of last year.

But let's start from the beginning. I originally got wind of the story through This is Cornwall, who posted the following article on their website:

The article tells of Reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright, a forty-year-old resident of St. Columb Minor who began sheltering the homeless in his church back in 2002. At first he only had a smattering of rough sleepers seeking shelter, often only receiving two to three people each year. Now, as the economic climate worsens, Chris has seen twenty-three homeless people pass through his church doors since November 2011 alone.  

Now, one would take this as an encouraging sign for Chris, as news of his hospitality reaches farther and farther across Cornwall and the West Country; indeed, Chris welcomes the rough sleepers with open arms - being the vice chairman of the homeless charity St. Petroc's Society, Chris' dedication to these people goes beyond simply being a good Christian. In reality, though, the increased traffic of rough sleepers through the village of St. Columb Minor has given Chris a lot more grief than expected. This is not because of the homeless causing trouble in the village. No. It is in fact the villagers themselves who have been causing the trouble, complaining that the "scum" will ruin their village, which "is a very close and tight-knit community". Yes, the villagers who have their comfortable, warm houses and wide-screen televisions have been complaining about Chris' incredible devotion to these, admittedly troubled, but nonetheless needy, people. One man even squared up to Chris recently, branding him as "the most hated man in Newquay" for what he has been doing. This and more can be read in an article here, also on This is Cornwall:

I was pretty confused upon reading this article. I am not a Christian man myself  - I do not support religious beliefs at all, in fact - but in my eyes, if a church should be doing anything, anything at all, then it is this. Needless to say, this gave the story an entirely new dimension, and I was spurred on to create the following documentation of the homeless of Nequay... 

Reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright

I arrived at St. Columb Minor church at around 8:45am - 45 minutes later than planned. This was due to the fact that, apparently, the entire West Country stops moving on weekends. Kindly, Chris had waited for my arrival, despite the fact he had a service to take at St. Colan church a few miles down the road at 9:00am. So, following an extremely brief introduction to the homeless who had slept at the church the previous night, we sped over to St. Colan in Chris' car.

It was at this time that it became obvious that Chris was no 'ordinary' vicar. He was, in fact, quite brilliant, and probably the only vicar I will ever meet who doesn't severely get on my wick. His sarcastic rhetoric and habit of swearing as we drove over to St. Colan caught me totally by surprise. Chris obviously noted my reaction, saying "You obviously didn't Google me before you arrived, did you?". "No" I replied dumbly.

Service was due to start at 09:00am. After literally running in to the church and throwing on his robe at the altar in front of bemused church-goers, Chris was ready to begin. He began, in fact, by announcing the reason for his lateness that morning: me. A sea of Christian faces turned my way as I sheepishly apologised and pointed towards my camera, as if this would in some way help the people understand. An interesting start, to say the least. Chris then continued to talk in this humorous and informal rhetoric to the church-goers for quite some time, who appeared to be accustomed to such behaviour. Service then continued in its usual, Godly manner as another preacher took over to talk about how Facebook was the anti-Christ. Probably. At this point in time Chris then literally took a pew at the back of the church and proceeded to almost fall asleep... Either that or he was praying really, really hard...

In Chris' defence, he told me on the drive over that he had recently been working twenty-hour days due to his  substantial roll in the community, not to mention looking after the homeless of Newquay. And in all seriousness, once the service began, I saw  the dedicated, and slightly batty, vicar transform before my eyes. What I saw was a humble, God-fearing man who loved every minute of what he was doing...

It was not until after returning to St. Columb Minor that I came in to any sort of prolonged contact with the homeless, who had stayed at the church to wait for Chris' 11:00am service. As soon as I began photographing them I knew that this was where my story would be focused. I soon befriended David, who has been without a home since 2008 after having a nervous breakdown following the repossession of his home and a career in the armed forces, resulting in a serious drinking problem; and Lee, a native to Bournemouth who has been homeless since the age of sixteen (portraits below). 

David Jones, 49

Lee Parkinson, 40
from left to right: David Jones, Roberto Darrick and Lee Parkinson saying the Lord's Prayer

David and Lee wait in line receive bread and wine at the altar

I felt that these scenes in the church alone represented how genuinely grateful and willing these people are to be part of a community who support each other. David and Lee admitted that they got a very positive feeling from being present at the services. Unfortunately, it would appear that this community, which prides itself on acts of good-will and respect, do not see the men in the same way. 

After the service Lee explained to me how he has heard the elder members of the community speaking in a derogatory manner about their presence within clear earshot of both Chris and the other homeless people.
David, Lee and the other rough sleepers are not permitted to stay at the church all day, not even by Chris. As they were leaving to make their way in to town I asked if I could could join them. They were happy, and with orders from Chris - or 'Chris the Vic', as he has become affectionately known by the homeless people of Newquay - to "look after me", I made my way in to Newquay town, about to be shown the day in the life of people who have no home to return to after service...

David and Lee look over the Newquay town beaches. In the distance The Atlantic Hotel sits on the headland.

David stops in the street to push a delivery van as its engine cut out in the middle of the road

It turned out that the man worked for Domino's Pizza, he offered Dave a free pizza in return for his help. "I believe in Karma" David said as we continued walking.

An abandoned house which, according to David, will soon become a new squat.

The L, a public toilet and shelter situated on the barrowfields on the outskirts of Newquay. David, Lee and other homeless people often hang out here to drink and socialise.

Even after spending such a short amount of time with David and Lee, I could tell that they were not 'bad' people. Of course, they had made mistakes in the past - but who hasn't? They were genuinely kind and very happy to help me with my project, respecting the fact that I was simply interested in their situation, and not exploiting them to create some sob story. I was also very surprised at their respect for the surroundings. David made a point of never leaving rubbish on the floor, of defacing property or of stealing. He spoke of how the people of Newquay have an extremely stereotypical opinion of the homeless in Newquay, and yet every summer the tourists and locals litter the streets with their beer bottles and remnants from beach barbecues, contradicting their zealous views. He was also genuinely happy to help people - and not just me - as seen in the frames where he helped the broken down van in the road. 

I got  a strong feeling that David was simply unfortunate. He was a dedicated worker before he was forced to live on the streets in 2008; he had previously been a drug and alcohol tutor at a prison, helping those that had problems with substance abuse. He then served a long time in the forces, working in a bomb disposal unit for the army. He also trained in the emergency services, working as a fire fighter for several years. Unfortunately, David soon found himself in trouble with alcohol himself. Blaming the heavy drinking culture in the armed forces as part of the problem, he told me of how "If you had a problem, you had a pint". His abuse of alcohol spiralled. His body became alcohol dependent to the point that he would suffer from 'alcoholic seizures' if he did not have alcohol in his system. Following a string events in 2008, including the disintegration of his relationship and the repossession of his home, David had a nervous breakdown. 

After three years of living on the streets, however, David has accepted his problems. He has limited himself to four cans of beer or cider a day, and is accepting help from Veterans' Aid, a charity which deals with ex-armed forces personnel who suffer from alcohol dependency and other mental or physical problems. 

David and Lee sit in a public shelter by the harbour where they often sleep at night. Sometimes the fishermen will give them freshly caught fish to cook at the church in St. Columb.

David stops by Boots to put on cologne. "No need to smell like a homeless person is there?" he said to me.

David asks a couple in the street for a cigarette.

David picks up a bottle of cider at  £2 for two litres from Bargain Booze to share with a friend who did not want to be photographed.

Lee sits on the steps to Mind, an organisation which helps those with addictions and mental illnesses. 

David picks up his free pizza from Domino's.
As we made our way around Newquay, David introduced me to one of his friends, Clive Bladen. David met Clive on his birthday after he gave him a joint on the beach. Now, they see each other almost daily. Clive was quite articulate, and told me of how he lived on the streets through choice after massive problems with his relationship. He did not appear upset or even worried about the fact he did not have a home. 

Clive Bladen

Clive chats with David and Lee on the steps of the Beach Nightclub in Newquay town centre.

The bench where Clive chooses to sleep, despite the offer of the church from Chris

As we were returning to the church in St. Columb, David and Lee stopped at The L to finish off the Domino's pizza which was given to them. As we approached we saw a very small and frail man sitting on the bench. As we sat down it became clear that this man obviously had severe mental difficulties. He struggled with talking and was shivering violently due to the harsh wind which was blowing across the headland, a problem which was not helped by the fact he was merely dressed in tracksuit bottoms, sandals and a T-shirt. What followed was probably the most humbling part of the entire day, as David and Lee attempted to feed and dress the man...

David offers a slice of hot pizza in vain, willing the man to eat. It appeared as though he was not even aware of what he was looking at.

David gave wrapped his coat around the still unidentified man. Although he could not talk, his appreciation was evident.

After a short while the man's carer showed up. They had become separated in town and had been looking for the man, who was apparently called Tony. David gave up his fleece for Tony to keep. Afterwards, he turned to face me and said "this is the real world".  

After spending the day with these people, and gaining but  a fraction of an experience of their way of life, I feel compelled ot continue documenting their lives. After speaking to Chris, it is agreed that I will be returning to St. Columb and Newquay very soon to create an on-going study of the homeless of Newquay. Perhaps I can change peoples' perception of these misunderstood and often compassionate people - perhaps I won't. But it is the first time I have truly felt the need to prove - or at least say - something with my photography.