Housing

Striking photos taken by homeless photographers offer a rarely-seen view of London

One hundred single-use cameras are given to 100 people affected by homelessness every year to capture photos of London. The resulting calendar is sold on the streets to help people out of poverty

MyLondon homelessness calendar

Aaron Little directed this photo of himself at Camden Lock. He said: "Believe it or not, being in Camden – walking around like that – no one batted an eyelid at me! I found that extraordinary!" Image: Aaron Little/Cafe Art

Each one of these photos shows London through the lens of a photographer who has experienced homelessness.

The annual MyLondon calendar is a simple concept: every year charity Cafe Art gives out 100 single-use Fujifilm QuickSnap cameras to 100 people affected by homelessness.

The result is a striking collection of images focusing on London’s people, landmarks and wildlife, offering an incisive look at everyday life in the English capital from a perspective most of us cannot share.

The photos are turned into a calendar sold on London’s streets and markets with an identical model to The Big Issue – for each calendar sold half of the £12 cover price goes to the vendor.

Maurice Woolger, from Shepherd’s Bush, was among the 100 people who received a camera at St Paul’s Cathedral on July 6.

The 50-year-old is part of 240Project, a charity based in West London that helps people who have experienced homelessness to boost their self-esteem and confidence through the arts.

Woolger spent a few nights on the street and a longer spell sofa surfing before 240Project helped him into more secure accommodation. But he has continued to work on the MyLondon calendar for the last five years and this year his shot of the iconic Battersea Power Station made the cut.

My London homelessness calendar
Maurice Woolger was intending to take photos in Battersea Park when he captured this shot of the iconic Battersea Power Station. He said: “The sky [in this shot] gives it a sort of ethereal feel.” Image: Maurice Woolger / Cafe Art

“I’d actually gone to the wrong underground station to someone and I saw Battersea Power Station there and I thought: I’ve got a few shots left,” Woolger told The Big Issue.

“Battersea Power Station is obviously a great building to try and take photographs of. It’s just so iconic and the angles worked very well so I thought I’ll take one shot and obviously it’s gone in.

“A lot of people say it’s very difficult to take a good picture of Battersea Power Station but I think it’s a good shot and I’ve done quite well with it.”

Woolger added that single-use cameras mean the project is a test for the photographer who take part, showcasing the skills of people who face homelessness.

MyLondon homelessness calendar
Milena’s shot of the carousel in Hyde Park is the cover photo for the 2023 calendar. She said: “I just walked in Hyde Park and I thought it would make a great photo. I take a lot of digital pictures and usually delete them. With [a film camera] I didn’t really know what I had taken.” Image: Milena / Cafe Art
MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Aija Kalnina from St Mungo’s went to the Kew Gardens, Richmond, to take pictures of the Waterlily House. She said she felt the person standing in the pond needs to be seen “because these people make it possible for the visitors to the Kew Gardens to enjoy… it’s hard work what they are doing.” She visits Kew regularly, taking advantage of their Community Access Scheme membership. From Riga, Latvia, she was introduced to photography my her mother who used to work in a photography studio. Image: Aija Kalnina / Cafe Art
MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Karim VAV / Cafe Art

“It’s been a good experience taking part in Cafe Art so I think it’s helped increase my enjoyment of photography because you have to have to think a bit more when you’re using a disposable – you only get one shot,” said Woolger.

“I like photography because I like how it captures a moment, it shows you aspects of the world that people often don’t notice. Photography improves your ability to look at the world in a different way and take a lot more in, to be more observant of the world around you.

“It would be easy for people to try and get photos of aspects of homelessness or what they’ve been exposed to in London from their own experiences. But this project is about being more positive than that. It shows they’re more than just representing their situations and they have more to offer than just complaints or what has happened to them. It shows they are creative and they’ve moved ahead.”

While Woolger’s snap is featured as the August 2023 image, the cover snap belongs to Milena who captured a carousel in Hyde Park.

Some photographers focused on recognisable landmarks like Alzira Viana’s photo of The Shard while Mark Griffiths, who is supported by charity The Connection, opted to capture the National Covid Memorial Wall.

MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Mark Griffiths / Cafe Art
MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Stephanie Griffiths / Cafe Art
MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Mark Griffiths / Cafe Art

Others captured lesser-seen spots like Karim Vav. Vav is originally from Strasbourg in France but has lived in London for 15 years and works as a bike courier. The rookie snapper opted to take a photo of street art on Hackney’s Mare Street for his submission.

Some photographers opted to capture people. Aaron Little, who is supported by One Housing, is the subject of his photo. He directed the snap of himself wearing tiger paint and admitted: “No one gave me a second look in Camden”.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Griffiths captured Pride in Soho Square and said the project helped her to get out and meet people, boosting her mental health.

“It was a breath of fresh air because I was not in a good space with my housing situation,” said Griffiths.

“It was really good because I could take a week off and just focus on taking some really good photographs. The project is really really helpful in lots of ways.”

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More than 1,800 photos were developed as part of the project before a panel of experts narrowed them down to 20. From there the public voted on the final 12 that made the cut for the calendar.

Launched in 2013, the project has turned international in recent years with projects in Budapest, Sydney, Perth, Toronto, New Orleans and São Paulo.

MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Richard Fletcher / Cafe Art
MyLondon Homelessness calendar
Image: Stephen Carolan / Cafe Art

Cafe Art has launched a new charity MyWorld to support the London project and its sister city contemporaries backed by a crowdfunding campaign.

This year’s London calendar will launch on September 6 with a pop-up exhibition near the Elizabeth Line at Canary Wharf Station with the printed calendars delivered following World Homeless Day on October 10.

All participants also selected up to five photos to go on show at another exhibition at Lambeth’s Minet Library in October.

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