MADI ABDO PHOTOGRAPHY

Homeless Documentary Project: Eyes that seem looking at a world only them would seem to figure out. (2011)

To successfully carry out my London Homeless Project I had first to identify where I could find the homeless that I need to cover. The first thing I made was to ride on the upper decks of buses so that I would take notes of the places where homeless individuals might be found. Then after having in this way compiled a map of the locations where homeless peoples could be found, I started visiting these places and approaching some of those homeless that would seem more likely to cooperate with me. The places were homeless peoples could to be found, were homeless shelters or near churches offering some assistance to them, as well as tube and railway stations. Choosing whom to approach was very important, as the appearances and attitudes of some of these people clearly indicate their hostility and even some risks of acts of physical violence. Therefore, I had in this regard to avail myself of all my public relation and persuasion capabilities to succeed in getting these homeless peoples to agree to be photographed as they were, and tell me their particular stories. However, not always my initial judgements would prove to be sound, as some of those I thought, judging from their apparent good naturalness, were likely to be cooperative, became hostile and unhelpful when I approached them to kindly be photographed. There I realized that the best way to get their trust and cooperation was to engage in casual friendly conversation with them, showing them that they were in my eyes dignified people worthy of respect as human beings going through some difficult times. I found out that only after managing to establish some sort of amicable relationship, any request for agreeing to be photographed should be tactfully made. However, there are some exception to this general norm, as some of the homeless peoples, can, as soon as they realize that you might be interested in their pictures, tell you to shoot, as if such photography would make them feel very important. In general, I could confirm here that, in average, I might have succeeded in getting the cooperation of almost 50% of those approached. However, sometimes, there were some cases of hostile reception, and potential verbal or even physical abuses, which made necessary for me to leave the scene immediately. I must emphasize here that, since not all the homeless I met were so because of the economic crisis, I had to disregard those homeless people that I met whose homelessness were not causally related to the economic crisis.

With regard to the equipments I have used for this photographic project, I may mention here that I have used a medium format camera, a digital as well as a 35mm camera. For the lighting I used a flash.

Here are some of the images of homeless peoples made so by the economic crisis that I have captured with one of the above-mentioned three camera types. Meeting and photographing these homeless people made me sympathetic and very troubled, especially when I see their eyes that seem looking at a world only them would seem to figure out.

This is the picture of a homeless that I have captured with a medium format camera, aperture f5.6, shutter speed of 1/500 and filter 3 1/2, 30 seconds, while sleeping in a park, using his belongs as a pillow. Unlike all the other images of the homeless people I have photographed, who were aware of and consenting to be captured, this image was taken from certain distance, the subject sleeping and unaware of being photographed, so to have at least one picture showing the suffering of the roughly sleeping homeless people, regardless of the causes of their homelessness.

This is a close up picture, from right to left, of Dexter and his friend Nicholas, two homeless sitting and consuming sandwiches near a church that provides meals to the needy, that I have captured with a medium format camera, aperture f8, shutter speed of 125, and filter 3, 12 seconds. The couple were so badly affected by their addiction that only with much difficulty I could comprehend their incoherent and broken sentences. They seem that, having both lost their jobs and therefore no longer able to pay the rents of their houses, they ended up as homeless. After some fruitless attempts to get other jobs, they started to drink more and more until they became alcohol dependents. I have tried to focus on their faces in order to show how miserable and hopeless their conditions were. The beer can emerging from the bag on which Nicholas was sitting may constitute an additional detail making the image more interesting. The exposed white couple's faces and hands contrast with their dark clothes and the vegetation at the background. Looking at this image makes me overwhelmed by strange feelings of sadness and sympathy.

I have captured this picture of the homeless Sean with a medium format camera, aperture f5.6, shutter speed 125 and filter 3 ½, 12 seconds. I have focused on the face and the right hand holding the bottle from which he was drinking, as he was explaining to me that he normally do not allow to be photographed, but only because, in a way, I reminded him of his later daughter, he was only making this exception and giving me the permission to take his snapshot. Sean's mind seemed relatively sharper, compared to other homeless of similar conditions that I have met, as he narrated to me how he sadly became homeless and alcoholic when he lost his job, and consequently his home. He told me how he tried to find another job, but apparently his age was an obstacle, as businesses look for bright young people and not old men like himself. This feeling of uselessness made him turn to alcohol until he reached his present regrettable alcoholic condition. I have tried to focus on Sean's face so that I could capture his protesting face seemingly expressing the anguish and the hopelessness he is feeling. The similarities between the colours of Sean's clothes and those of the trees and buildings at the background, in contrast of the brightness of the sky and that of the bottle he is holding, seem making the image more interesting.

This is a second image of Sean that I have taken to capture him in another position, still holding the alcohol bottle, using also a medium format camera, aperture f4, shutter speed of 1/500 and filter 3 ½, 12 seconds. Here Sean is caught attentively starring at the camera from his oddly downcast head, apparently to convey some other message.

I have captured this image of the homeless Grady, a friend of homeless Sean, with medium format camera, aperture f2.8, shutter speed of 125 and filter 3 ½, 12 seconds, while sitting on a park bench, and looking at the camera with the fist of the up-bended right hand supporting his chin, while the other hand is bent backward to touch his left hip. Grady's face seems to convey his resignation to the difficult life he is presently living and the lack of any hope of improvement. Grady after some initial reluctance, has told me how he is proud that I am interested in his image and life. He told me that with the help of some funds borrowed from a bank, he started a small service providing business in 2007. The business went very well in the beginning and he was able to repay some of the loan. However, things went wrong suddenly in late 2008: Huge losses were made as my services were no longer in demand, and the bank requested immediate settlement of the outstanding loans and their interests. This led to his becoming a homeless, as a direct result of loosing, in addition of his business, also his own house, which was offered as a collateral of the bank's loan.

I have captured this homeless Robert sitting panhandling at the corner junction of two walls, with arms holding each other over the crossed legs, using a medium format camera, aperture f11, shutter speed of 125 and filter 3 ½, 12 seconds. Robert is caught starring directly at the camera with a sad face that seems resigned to his status of homelessness. The bag on which he seems sitting on, the begging cup and the other item shown seem to make the image more detailed and interesting. He told me that after loosing his job, following the bankruptcy of his employer, he defaulted on his mortgage and as a result of that lost his home and became a homeless. He unsuccessfully applied to so many vacant positions advertised by the Jobseekers Plus, until finally dispirited and loosing the hope of getting any job, he stopped looking for employment. Robert told me also that he has one regret: namely, that during the time he had a job with good remuneration, he was not so wise as to make savings that would see him through during the bad days like these, and instead, spent all his incomes in futile goods or services. He, therefore, would like that young people use his story as a teaching example of why they should, unlike him, make good savings for the potential future bad times.

This is an image of Liza, a homeless girl that I have captured with a medium format camera, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/500, as she was sitting inside the subway tunnel of the Elephant & Castle Station and starring at the camera with hands joined over her feet. Liza looked like someone afraid of something, and when I asked her the reason for her apparent concern, she told me that she was new to the world of homelessness, and aware of her weakness and vulnerability as a lone of London. Liza was appreciative of my company as she narrated her sad story. She told me that she was college student living with her working mother. Unfortunately, when the employer of her mother decided to downsize its dependent staff, including her mother, they both were thrown out of the place they were living in, when her mother could not pay the accumulated due rents. Following that her mother developed some mental problems and were recovered in a psychiatric clinic, and she started sleeping sometime in shelter and other times under bridges or similar places. Today is the first time she has come to this area and she does not know whether the place is safe for a defenceless young woman or not.

This is another image of the homeless Liza that I have previously captured with a digital camera. I have taken this second picture of Liza using a medium format camera, aperture f5.6, shutter speed of 1/500 and filter 3, 12 seconds, in order to be able to see which of the two images make Liza's homelessness and emotions more evident.

I have captured this night shot picture of the homeless Earl with a medium format camera, aperture f4, shutter speed 125 and filter 3 ½, 12 seconds, using a flash that brightly illuminated him, in contrast of his shadow and the dark left side of the background, as well as his black gloves. Earl was caught blowing his flute to entertain the passers by to make them respond to his melody by throwing some coins in his begging hat. His face features seem to convey the hard times he is going through, which might make his targeted audience more sympathetic and helpful. Earl's story is similar to many of the homeless people I have photographed, as he claims that he lost his job and mortgaged home because of the economic crisis.

Here is the picture of two homeless friends, Will (right) and Pat (left) that I have taken, using a medium format camera, aperture f5.6, shutter speed of 125, and filter 3 ½, 15 seconds. I met this couple sitting and drinking from beer cans. In the beginning they were not in favour of being photographed and only when I showed my student identity card they gave me their permissions. Will told me that, unlike his friend Pat, who has been homeless for a long time, he could be considered a new comer to the world of homelessness. Will explained to me that some twenty months ago his employer terminated his employment, along with some of his colleagues, as, according to the employer, the market conditions made necessary to reduce the workforce. Will says that, unfortunately, his hard efforts to find another job proved fruitless, and after short period, he became a homeless, like his friend Pat, who was so kind as to assist him to come to terms with and adjust to his new status. The image seems visually telling the agony and sadness they experienced, made more painful by the story telling. The similar way both men are holding the beer can and contrast between them as each is caught looking at different directions could have made the image more worthy of attention. On the other hand, the trees and buildings clearly seen behind the fenced wall may have also made the picture more detailed and therefore more interesting.

I have taken this night shot image of homeless Dennis using a medium format camera, aperture f4, shutter speed of 125 and filter 3, 12 seconds, while sitting in front of a wall and holding a cardboard on which is written the following message: "I am homeless please can you help me thank you God bless you". The flash that I have used seems to have accentuated the sadness evident in Dennis's face for becoming a homeless. The contrast between the dark ground on which Dennis is sitting on and the bright lit background wall seems making the image that interesting. Dennis claims that he became homeless and forced to panhandle, following his employer firing him, along with many others, when having suffered significant losses, apparently due to the economic crisis, was forced to make redundant some of the staff to minimize the operational costs. Since then Dennis says he has been trying to find another employment, but so far without any luck. He says that, as he is young and healthy without addictions whatsoever, he is confident that, sooner or later he will find a job that would make his homelessness something of the regrettable past. For my part I encouraged him to keep hopeful and clean and wished him all the best.

I have taken this night shot picture of Peter, a homeless sitting panhandling with his dog, using my Nikon F55 35mm camera with flash, aperture f5.6, and filter three, 12 seconds. Although Peter is caught looking down, nevertheless, his sad emotions seem clearly shown, as he is seemingly using the caressing of the dog to put additional pressure on passers by as they might be expected to be more considerate to the two of them, instead of him alone. Peter's white sheet covering his legs seems to be contrasting with his black jacket and that of the upper left section of the background wall. Peter says that he had a god job and lived in a nice flat, until the economic crisis hit his employer, which led, first, to his loss of employment, and, secondly, his home. Peter now partly blames himself for his present conditions, as when he lost his job, he did not properly look for a job or tried re-training himself.

I have captured this image of the panhandling homeless Christina with a Nikon F55 camera, aperture f5.6 and filter three, 12 seconds. Christina's face and semi-closed eyes seem to reflect the hardship and pains she is experiencing. Christina told me how she misses the good job and the comfortable life she had. She explained to me that, as a result of the world economic crisis, the company she used to work for was forced, apparently after suffering significant losses, to get rid of half of its employees, including her. As a result of that she lost her mortgaged house and became one of the many homeless people roaming the streets of London and roughly sleeping under bridges or similar places. Christina says that the pains she constantly feels for loosing her 6-year old daughter Amy to the social services, as she was a single mother not fit to take care of her child, aggravates her sufferings.

I have photographed the panhandling homeless Tony, using a Nikon F55 camera, aperture f5.6 and filter three, 12 seconds. The side profile image of Tony's face seems clearly expressing the pain he is actually feeling as a homeless. Tony did not volunteer to tell his sad story, but only after my insistence, he hesitantly gave me an idea of what happened to him. Tony says that he had a good job and used his incomes to enjoy life without thinking of the future and the wisdom of making savings. Sadly, however, when, a year-and half ago he lost his job and was unable to secure another one, he became a homeless. This desperation made him to start drinking heavily until he became an addict.

I have captured this close up image of homeless Axel while sitting near a friend of him not taken by the camera, as I wanted to focus on Axel's face and the piercing eyes attentively starring at the camera, so that I would be able to show the intensity of his emotions. For this purpose I used my Nikon F55 camera, aperture f5.6 and filter three, 12 seconds. Axel told me that after loosing his job and his home, his girl friend left him for another guy, since he was no longer able to offer her the high lifestyle she was used to. Axel added to that saying that the anger of loosing both his job and his girl friend led him to become so unhappy and unbalanced.

I have captured this close up image of homeless Thomas with my Nikon F55, 35mm camera, and aperture f5.6 and filter three, 10 seconds focusing on the face so that I would be able to show as much details as possible, such as the half-closed eyes looking at the camera with high intensity, as to say that he was not ashamed or afraid of being photographed the way he was. Thomas told me that since his homelessness was due to some force majeure beyond his control, such the world economic crisis, he has nothing to be blamed for. And therefore, he is hopeful that as soon as the necessary remedial economic policies were put in place and the crisis properly managed, he would get the job he needs. What he needs, Thomas says, is to be patient and strong, and avoid being trapped by the desperation that afflicts many in his similar conditions, until such time the right economic conditions are made to prevail.

I have shot this picture of panhandling homeless Dwayne with my Nikon F55 camera, aperture f5.6 and filter three, 12 seconds. Dwayne says that he lost his job some ten months ago, when his employer suffered heavy losses, and therefore could not avoid releasing some of the workforce. Dwayne says that despite actively looking for another job, he, unfortunately, could not get any. After that he was eventually evicted from the rented flat, thus becoming a homeless. Dwayne continued his narrative by confessing that his status of homeless made him loose his self-esteem, and turned to alcohol apparently to kill that pain. Dwayne seemed very aware of and sorry for his condition, and although he avoided directly looking at the camera, his face seems to convey his emotions and sufferings. The contrasts between the black jacket of Dwayne and the white begging sheet hiding his feet and the white and black tiles of the background wall seem making the image more interesting.

I have captured this image of homeless Thomas with my digital camera, aperture f5.6, and shutter speed 1/500. Thomas claims that he has become homeless following loosing his job, when the business he used to work for collapsed last year. He says also that he has become an alcoholic, mainly to escape from the indignity of feeling worthless, as he was not able to get a new job. I have got this close up picture of Thomas in order to be able to show the apparent symptoms of his physical sufferings, as well as his emotions, as reflected by his sad face and sinking nebulous eyes. Thomas seems to be fully aware of his unhealthy conditions, and confesses that his life is almost finished and he sees no way he can now reverse it.

I have met this homeless man named Leonard in a park near Oval Underground Station. I used my digital camera, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/500, to capture Leonard's face, the right side of which properly illuminated by the sunlight, while the other side is totally in shadow. Leonard is caught starring with a frown at the camera, with the face slightly tilting to the left, apparently to imply that he is such an important person to the extent that others actually value his pictures. Leonard says he became homeless when his landlord evicted him, as he failed to pay his rent arrears, due to loosing his job, when, apparently, his employer was forced to significantly reduce the operational costs in general, and staff costs, in particular. Leonard confesses that, as he was not strong-willed and patient, the desperation made him consider alcohol as a way of attenuating his sufferings, while, in reality, it was compounding them.

This is the image of homeless James that I have captured while sitting on his wheelchair near the church that provides meals to homeless and other needy individuals. For this picture I used my digital camera, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/500. I did focus on James's face, thus leaving the background out of focus, in order to be able to show his double sufferings: for being both homeless and physically invalid, a fact that obviously James did not want to be shown. James narrated to me his tragedies, saying that, after loosing his job and then becoming later homeless, he became so angry he drove his vehicle at high speed, which led him to have an accident, that made him end on a wheelchair. James blames himself for his stupid uncontrolled anger that led to his tragedy.

This is a picture of Mike, whom I photographed while sitting in front of a church, that provides hot meals to homeless people like him, using my digital camera, with aperture f5 and shutter speed of 1/400. Mike says he is 37 years old, and homeless since 2008, when he lost his job, as his employer decided to reduce the manpower. He says that since then he has been looking for a job, but without any luck. Then he started drinking and taking drugs, a fact he admits has worsened his conditions, to the extent that now he could see no way out of it. Mike was so kind as to allow me to take this close up picture of him, and to concentrate on his face, as well as the eyes shadowed by the hood. Mike used the hood on purpose apparently to prevent the showing of a long scar on his face, a sort of privacy that I was able to understand.

Here is the image of the homeless Daniel that I have captured. I have met Daniel sitting inside the subway tunnel of the Elephant & Castle Station. The serious looking face of Daniel seems directed to some imaginary point to the left of the camera. As I sat near him I asked him how he would describe his status of homeless, he told me that he was angry at our political and economic systems, because of the failure of finding proper solutions to the problems of joblessness and homelessness, as civilized societies of our modern world would be rightly expected to see to it. Daniel says that he became homeless few months after he lost his job a year and half ago. Daniel told me that, since then he has been looking for an employment, but without any success. His confidence in the systems and his patience is getting day after day thinner and thinner. I could only exhort him to be patient and continue to look for a job.

This is a portrait of homeless Chris that I have captured while sitting near a church that offers some assistance to the needy. For this picture I used my digital camera, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/500. I focused on the face of Chris, thus leaving the background out of focus, in order to be able to properly show his facial features mirroring his sufferings and emotions. Chris says that after loosing his job he became a homeless. And despite his long searches for an employment, he has so far failed to get any job. After a year or so of unsuccessful job searches, Chris say he finally lost any hope of getting a job, and sought remedy in alcohol.

I have captured this picture of Russian homeless Alexei, using my digital camera, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/500. The face of Alexei and his downcast eyes seem to express the discomfort and stress he is experiencing. Alexei explained to me in broken English that he came to London from Russia two years ago, and was so lucky to get a job shortly after his arrival. However, after six months or so, as a result of some financial difficulties experienced by his employer, his job was lost, and after few months, became homeless. Alexei says that since then he has been looking for a job, but unfortunately none was available. However, Alexei says that as he is patient man, he is confident that sooner or later he will get a job, as long as he is able to keep away from alcoholism and drugs. From my part I encouraged him and wished him an early job.

Here is the picture of David and his friend who is trying to hide his face under his jacket. This image was captured with my digital camera, with aperture f4 and shutter speed 1/200. David says he came from Poland three years ago and had a job only for the first year of his being in London. Since loosing that job he became homeless, seeking refuge in alcohol. He said that his friend did not want to be bothered, as he doesn’t want others to see his truly miserable condition, unlike David, who did not mind being photographed. David says that he would really like to go back to Poland, but, unfortunately, do not have the necessary funds to buy a ticket.

Using Format