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Homeless people get creative with self-portraits for new photo exhibition

Anthony Luvera worked in the kitchens at Birmingham homelessness charity SIFA Fireside to help people experiencing homelessness to create their own photos.

A photographer volunteered with outreach services to help people experiencing homelessness create their own self-portraits for a new photo exhibition.

Artist Anthony Luvera worked in the kitchens for a year at Birmingham homelessness charity SIFA Fireside to meet staff and the people they support to create CONSTRUCT. The exhibition invited people to co-create their own photos to show representation and identity among the most marginalised people in the city.

homelessness project
Ben Rodda and other participants had a say on where their assisted self portrait was taken as well as learning photography techniques from Luvera. Image: Anthony Luvera

His four-year project, which started in 2018, has seen him work with over 50 people who have experienced homelessness to create 21 assisted self-portraits that will go on display in Birmingham’s Snow Hill Square from September 14.

“The way I work is socially engaged,” said Luvera, whose previous projects include photographing a vigil in memory of people who died while experiencing homelessness and chronicling local authorities’ inability to answer basic questions about homelessness

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“That is, I spend time volunteering in support services developing relationships with the people with whom I work, inviting them to develop skills, to use equipment to record their experiences and the things they are interested in, and to co-create images with me.

“Over the years, I’ve collaborated with hundreds of individuals and through this process I’ve collated thousands of photographs, video, sound recordings, and other pieces of ephemera created by participants that express their points of view, and visualise experiences of some of the most marginalised people in society.”

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homelessness
The striking portraits, like this one of Mauvette Reynolds, show aim to show the identity and representation among different people who face homelessness. Image: Anthony Luvera
homelessness
Jas Jangha and other participants got the final say on which assisted self-portrait would feature in the exhibition which opens in Birmingham next month. Image: Anthony Luvera
homelessness
The project highlighted how people who face homelessness like Wayne Hollis lack opportunities to be creative due to the position they find themselves in. Image: Anthony Luvera

After spending the first year of the project volunteering at the charity, Luvera invited the people he met to take cameras away to capture their experiences, meeting with participants regularly to discuss their images and to record conversations.

Those conversations continued online during the Covid pandemic with Luvera holding remote workshops and teaching participants how to use digital medium format equipment to create their own assisted self-portrait.

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As part of the process, Luvera met regularly with participants in locations that are significant to them to create the portraits with the final images for use in exhibition then selected by the participant.

Luvera’s portraits will be exhibited on a bespoke exhibition structure in Snow Hill Square and images made by the participants during the creative process will be displayed in Snow Hill Station.

homelessness
As well as the exhibition, the photos, like this one of Natalia Tokarska, will be turned into a book to be launched on World Homelessness Day in October. Image: Anthony Luvera
homelessness
Luvera has been working with people who have experienced homelessness, like John Gallagher, since 2002. Image: Anthony Luvera
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As well as being featured in the exhibition, Diane Hamilton and other participants got the chance to learn photography skills through CONSTRUCT. Image: Anthony Luvera

“It’s easy to forget that when it comes down to essential needs, it’s not just about food, clothes and shelter,” said Dan Wakely, interim chief executive of SIFA Fireside.

“The ability to express yourself creatively is integral to your identity and wellbeing, no matter your background or current situation. It’s been amazing to see our clients develop since this project began and to have their work and stories displayed in Snow Hill Square is a great way to say that this is their city. After all, Birmingham belongs to all of us.”

CONSTRUCT, which has been commissioned by arts organisation GRAIN Projects and Colmore Business Improvement District in partnership with SIFA Fireside,will run from September 14 to October 13.

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