“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa
Recently my wife and I were forced to change our vets due to closure. The only other holistic vet we could find was on the outskirts of Leeds city centre.
We decided to have a night over in a little self-contained flat amongst the deprivation of the inner city. The flat was quite apt and to me, almost felt like a prison cell. It was formerly a cellar and no doubt once maybe even used for servants quarters. Don’t get me wrong, the bed was lovely and was well presented, warm and clean, but with one small window looking up into the concrete yard, did give you a sense of dungeon. This place is advertised as a holiday let and to the more discerning street photographer, I would definitely recommend it.
I will not name the area, but needless to say, no doubt will be recognised by some. I certainly mean no disrespect to the locality and it went through my mind just how many people from this area would have lost their lives, fighting for a country that so quickly forgets them. It was a stone throw from the city centre and a twenty-minute drive from the new vets. Armley jail could be reached on foot and so was a perfect location for a real-life street project.
I could use the base to walk the streets of the low socio-economic area and record the scenes. I surfaced from our accommodation, apartment just seems too grand a word to use. I almost gasped for air as if surfacing from the ocean bottom. I opened the latched gate, half expecting a prison guard to be on the other side telling me what time I had to be back.
My camera bag was draped over my shoulder and I dressed quite dapper in fifties style attire. I recently purchased a pork pie hat from a retro shop, which I was also wearing. My theory on the pork pie hat was that it would diffuse angry street folk, rather than prop up any sort of ego I may have. It basically says to people ” don’t take me too seriously” because I don’t.
To be honest, so far I have found it works a treat. It is a little like the body language of having your eye brows raised, It says “I am not a threat”
Since I have been wearing it, I seem to have far less confrontation and frowns. People tend to look at me and generally smile and even want to interact more whilst I am clicking away merrily.
Crumbling brickwork still showed the remnants of fifties advertising and tower blocks dominated the skyline, overshadowing the Victorian Terrace accommodation we were staying in.
I looked around the street at the litter and piled up garden toys once used before computer games and phones came along. People stood in their doorways smoking and eyeing me up as if I had just ridden into town on a three-legged donkey, wearing nothing but chromed spurs.
Many photographers before me have recorded the inner city slums and hardships, I wanted to taste the cold porridge and experience it for myself. I have been reading the book ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ by Sir Don McCullin who himself took images of poverty in a place only twenty minutes from where I was standing, Bradford in 1978. Another book I was given to me as a festive gift by my lovely wife Caroline accompanies that book superbly. It is a signed first edition simply called Don McCullin. It houses all the haunting images Don has taken in war-torn places and impoverished areas. One particular image stood out to me of a lady and a boy that had invited him into their home. They showed him the room with the long tails, rats! 1978 really was not that long ago and the impoverished lifestyles are still there.
As I walked, I drew out my X-T2 fitted with 12mm Samyang lens and attached it to my monopod. The lens is fully manual so I set it for hyperfocal shooting at “F8 and be there” Auto iso to keep the shutter speed at least 500
The day was dark, drizzly and dreary, somehow perfect for the mood of images I was about to get. I passed by a man using a telephone box, it sounds like a line from a Frank Sinatra song, but in this modern world in Britain, you really do not see these things very often anymore, Chicago! Chicago! My home town!………….. Sorry about that, but as I wander the streets, scenes do evoke songs into my head like the titles I eventually give to an image.
I stared at an old Victorian pub which had Melbourne Ales written on the side, as I thought of sunnier climates in a past life, a persons head peeped out of the doorway, cigarette in hand looking at me suspiciously. In a Shakespearian old hag sort of way, she asked me why I was taking pictures. When I returned “The beauty of the old buildings” she relaxed and started to give me information about the listed buildings in the area. Suddenly we were both relaxed as my camera kept firing throughout the conversation.
I trudged in harmony with the other characters of the street, past the community centre, I ambled past the Sikh Temple and into the dilapidated cemetery, passing those that do not care anymore, and they were not all dead. As I wiped away the settling drizzle from my lens, I looked up to be greeted by a huge wall on the exit of the sleeping souls. It dwarfed the frowning passer byes and an ironic poster advertising Crime watch UK
I did notice on my return when I downloaded my images and started processing my pictures how most of the frames seemed to be at a distance. I contemplated this and wondered if my subconscious had kept me at arm’s length from a scary world, that you know is there, but you would rather just keep it swept under the carpet. Maybe I felt it was a disease and I would be tarnished if I got too close. After all, this is beautiful Yorkshire, the place of my birth, these places to the outside world do not exist.
Thanks to us, the street photographers, people see the real world.