Gaze – ‘to look steadily, intently, and with fixed attention’
This artwork above brought to mind the subject of the ‘gaze’ and the ethical labyrinth of power issues the artist traverses when focusing the camera lens on another person, especially one who is homeless. I decided from day one in this project to stay well away from including people’s faces in any filming, in the hope that that might side step the issue. Recently though I sat down with two people who I know very well, both of whom have struggled through addiction and homelessness, to listen as they talked to me on a range of subjects, while also recording their conversation as part of research. As I am learning, the sheer act of having the recorder running, of essentially, as the definition says, of listening ‘steadily, intently, and with fixed attention‘ creates a powerful platform for shared intimacy, whether intended or not. It was not my intention to stray into sensitive territory, quite the opposite, but I am beginning to understand, the process of listening itself, has a power of it’s own. As always when I have interviewed people for films etc, I feel incredibly privileged to have had such personal moments shared, and the responsibility for their safe keeping is something which I do not carry lightly.
The artwork above was done by a young man who has recently come out of prison, registered as homeless, and is finding his way, with support, back into accommodation and (hopefully) work again. It’s a story I hear very often, and it’s frequency is troubling. Another man I met recounted his release from prison. He talked of being given the train fare back to his home town but nothing else. He found he was a considerable way from the train station, totally lost and spent hours walking, asking for directions, until he finally found his way through the help of a passer by who walked with him there. Whether such a subjective retelling was factual or not there was no doubt that the deep feelings of isolation and rejection for this man on his release were very real and have left their mark. Certain catalysts to homelessness arise again and again in conversations and without doubt, the aftermath to a prison sentence is a common one.