My London: homeless photography project goes international

Mr Bond and the Cutty Sark, Greenwich by ROL

This is what London looks like to homeless people.

In July, 100 single-use cameras were handed out to homeless and formerly homeless Londoners. They were given the theme My London, and some training from the Royal Photographic Society.

The resulting photos have been picked up around the world, revealing a another side of the UK’s capital to thousands of people, from readers of the UK’s Daily Mail and La Repubblica in Italy to viewers of the NBC Today Show in New York and beyond.

Café Art, the organisation behind the project, uses art to connect people affected by homelessness with the wider community.

Tyre Break, Hackney, by Desmond Henry

When the cameras came back in, Café Art developed more than 2,500 photos. The top 20 were picked by a panel of expert judges, and then put to a public vote to decide which should be featured in a 2016 calendar.

“It’s looking at London from a different angle. It’s like a love letter to London,” explains Café Art director Paul Ryan.

Tower Bridge Picnic, Southwark, by Ceci

It’s not the first time Paul has worked with photography to empower people. In Vancouver, Canada he helped create Hope in Shadows, a similar calendar project now run by local street paper Megaphone, and is about the launch its 13th edition.

Just as they do in Vancouver, each of the images in the My London calendar is accompanied by a caption, which tells a little of the photographer’s story. In this way, Paul hopes to break down public misconceptions about homeless people.

“We don’t want to gloss over homelessness,” he adds. “What we used to say in Vancouver was that we are subliminally getting into the kitchens and the boardrooms. They got this cute calendar but when they read it, they would find out things that they wouldn’t otherwise know. So it’s a subtle way of addressing the issue.”

Bags for Life, Strand, by David Tovey

David Tovey is one of the photographers whose work was picked to feature in the calendar. He says that the effect on his life has been profound.

“It’s no lie, it has changed my life,” he says. “All of a sudden I am getting recognition for my artwork. My self-esteem started rebuilding through the support network of Café Art.”

A former soldier, David was a successful businessman, running his own restaurant before a series of health problems caused him to lose his home.

This is the second year that he has contributed to Café Art’s calendar project. Following last year’s competition, he has seen his work exhibited in Christie’s in London, in New York and in Brazil.

“I’ve gone from living in a car to having my work shown in New York. This is just mental,” he says.

West End Bird, Westminster, by Zin

David has also now got his own flat, but he says that the feeling of worth he got from Café Art has meant even more to him than getting his own home.

“You don’t have to give a homeless person food, you don’t have to give them money, all you have to do is say hello. If you say hello, and just acknowledge somebody, suddenly they’re not feeling worthless,” he says.

“That’s where a social enterprise like Café Art is so valuable. They’re not there to give you a house, they’re there to take your mind off the shit you’re going through. When they put your artwork up in a café, and a homeless person gets an opening night for their artwork, it’s like you’re being accepted by society.

“It’s about social inclusion – and that’s bigger than anything else. I’m so passionate about what Café Art have done for me.”

Café Art are currently crowdfunding the print of this year’s calendar. If you’d like to pre-order one and support their goals, check out their page on Kickstarter.

Colour Festival, Olympic Park, by Goska Calik