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David Bailey: King’s Cross revisited

In 1999, The Big Issue asked David Bailey to capture the reality of rough sleeping around London’s King’s Cross. It became an important part of The Big Issue story. The celebrated photographer told us why he’s returning to these unforgettable, era-defining images

‘Things happen in their own time’

Back in 1999, The Big Issue sent renowned photographer David Bailey (below) on a mission to photograph homeless people in King’s Cross, London.

“Things happen in their own time,” says Bailey, sparking up the first of many cigarettes as we talk in his studio. Returning to the photographs 18 years on is fascinating, the end of the last century looking increasingly like what it is – a different age.

The King’s Cross of today is a world away from that described in our 1999 photography pull-out as having “an air of simmering misery and menace” to add to its “squalor”. The arrival of the Eurostar and the new Arsenal stadium were still pipe dreams then. If they were built, we speculated, then “maybe King’s Cross will go up in the world”.

Since Bailey shot these photo series, the area around King’s Cross has undoubtedly been transformed by vast investment and a concerted political effort. Seeing the photographs now, and with a recent study by the National Audit Office slamming the government’s lack of a strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness fresh in our mind, we have to wonder: can we say the same about the fight against homelessness?

A limited edition of 1,000 hand-signed and numbered copies of King’s X by David Bailey (below) is published by HENI Publishing (£225). For every copy sold, £10 will go to a homeless charity. An exhibition of the work runs at HENI in Soho, London W1 until October 29

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