A couple of blogs ago I mentioned Dorothea Lange’s ability to catch the souls of the dispossessed with her camera. Since that entry, I’ve seen The Hard Times Exhibition at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. The photographs are by Paul Wenham-Clarke, a Senior Lecturer at The Arts University College at Bournemouth.
The exhibition celebrates the 20th anniversary of The Big Issue, a magazine that is bought for one pound and sold for two pounds by the homeless or vulnerably housed. The magazine’s motto is “A hand up, Not a Handout.” In addition to addressing housing problems, the Big Issue Foundation also “provides support to vendors looking to address the issues which led them to become homeless.”
As for the Hard Times Exhibition, Paul Wenham-Clarke has kindly given me permission to share a couple of my favorite photos. The beauty of the exhibition is that like Dorothea Lange, Wenham-Clarke has captured the souls of his subjects. In some cases, the subjects wrote the text that accompanies the pictures; in other cases, Wenham-Clarke based the text on his conversations with the subjects.
The intent of the exhibition is to show the breadth and depth of homelessness. Everyone has a story and every story is different. Reading the stories, the viewer realizes that anyone can be a candidate for homelessness. There but for the grace of God, go I.
The young couple pictured above had moved to the city and were living in their car. Wenham-Clarke wrote, “They were a lovely warm couple who make me feel enormously welcome; however, I was left distressed by the encounter, and found myself imagining how I might feel if these young people were my children.” My response exactly.
Several of the featured homeless men were ex-servicemen. (I write “featured” because in addition to the men featured in the exhibition, countless others who are not featured have been short-changed by the Office of Veterans Affairs.) Bryan Rowe, pictured above, was a gunner in the Royal Navy. Another subject, Peter Welch, said he slept rough after leaving the Armed Forces: “They don’t prepare you for civilian life.” It is shameful. We ask them to die for us; they come home damaged; and we turn a blind eye.
And finally, a photo of John Edwards who is currently living in a squat because he won’t give up his dog, and hostels do not accept people with pets. “Violet, my dog, is my baby,” said Edwards, “and I love her.” We know the healing nature of pets, and yet…
This issue with pets in not new. When our eldest daughter was living in Boulder, CO, it must have been in the early 90s, she’d daily meet a homeless woman pan-handling on Pearl Street. The woman had a number of dogs. And then, sometime later, the woman had a baby. Social services would house her only if she gave up the dogs. The woman refused to comply. It was a stand-off.
And then winter came. One especially cold night, the mother and baby huddled together in a sleeping bag under a picnic table in a city park. And the baby died.
How the feathers flew! Someone was guilty of neglect! Was it the mother as some thought or was it the Department of Social Services?
Serving the homeless who have pets is a hard nut to crack. Read more about it in the May 23-29 edition of The Big Issue. As for the Hard Times Exhibition, it runs at St. Martins until 30 June. Take a look.