These striking photos of homeless people show the reality of life on Britain’s streets
Photographer Marc Davenant’s six-year project aims to “bring out the humanity” of people experiencing homelessness. His photos are set to be shown off at an exhibition next month before being turned into a book.
Marc Davenant’s Outsiders project is now set to be turned into a book and will become a travelling exhibition from next month in a bid to challenge perceptions of homelessness and put the spotlight on those who experience it.
He said: “A big part of the project was about bringing out the individuality and the humanity of the individuals I was photographing.
“I’m trying to show people with dignity, it’s really easy to get photographs of people looking miserable and like victims. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted it to really just bring out the resilience of these people.”
Davenant was inspired by the documentary photos of Nick Hedges, whose monochrome framing of the housing crisis in the late Sixties and early Seventies played an influential role in the early years of housing charity Shelter.
Like Hedges, Davenant’s project ended up chronicling a defining time for homelessness in the UK.
His black-and-white photos cover the tail-end of the Conservative government’s period of austerity when official figures showed rough sleeping hit its height in 2017. The shots also cover the pandemic when the Everyone In scheme brought hope that street homelessness could be ended for good.
Now Davenant believes things are set to get worse. “I think things have changed. I think we’re heading for a massive crisis of homelessness and substandard housing.”
Big Issue vendors feature prominently in Davenant’s look at street homelessness. Veteran London vendor Will Herbert takes a starring role in the exhibition, and not for the first time – a portrait of his was previously featured in Bryan Adams’ photography book Homeless.
Herbert’s not the only vendor captured in the project. Davenant’s photos feature Paul, a vendor who sold outside John Lewis on London’s Oxford Street, as well as Soho vendor Brian.
The Outsiders project tells stories of how some people feel ignored on the streets, like Arthur who was photographed in Manchester in 2019. He said: “All you see in the faces of the public is ‘tramp’, ‘failure’, ‘disgrace’. That’s what you get on the street. All it would take is some understanding and a kind word to lift the day but nothing. I didn’t want their money just someone to ask if I was ok.”
John who had spent 25 years on the street when he was photographed in Newcastle in 2021. “I’ve been street homeless for most of my life since I was 15,” he told Davenant. “I don’t use hostels, or sleep in Gateshead as it’s too dangerous, I’ve been attacked in hostels too many times and threatened with knives. It’s safer on the street in Newcastle.”
Davenant’s project goes beyond the streets. He partnered with Shelter to tell the stories of those living in temporary accommodation and unsafe, filthy and unsuitable housing.
That’s the reality of life for Fatima, who is pictured staring out of the broken window in her freezing flat in London’s Manor Park. Davenant recalled how water poured through the ceiling whenever it rained and how Fatima was forced to live with the conditions as she could not afford to switch on the heating.
The photographer says his photos opened his eyes to the scale of the issue and are a searing indictment of the policy of successive governments on street homelessness, substandard housing conditions and the individual impact of the hostile environment.
“It was when I started to dig into it that I realised that I didn’t know anything about the subject,” he told The Big Issue.
“It became bigger, became about homelessness in the round. It wasn’t just street homelessness, it was also sofa surfing and people living in substandard housing and the project grew as I was doing it. It became a big national project rather than a relatively small, local documentary project.”
The Outsiders Project has now become a small touring exhibition showing off Davenant’s photos and will be heading to Photo North Festival from May 7-9.