Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Gaze


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.






Marvin Gaye and the sailor

IMG_3235At the outset of this project I took my camera and mini projector to a car park I am familiar with. It was 6 AM, cold, and the car park was empty apart from a handful of cars, a man sweeping the floor of rubbish, and a man asleep beneath a duvet in an alcove. I chose this setting because a couple of years before I had spoken to another man, again under a duvet in the alcove, this time also under a cover of snow, that had blown in the sides of the car park and settled on his bedding.

In my projector I had some images of fabrics, quilts and family photographs. I played about projecting them onto the concrete pillars, walls and floor of the car park and photographing them, really, just experiencing the contrast of these deeply domestic fabrics and objects in this stark austere space. Film is a potent tool to bend and morph  truth.

Truth, and particularly truth in relation to identity and personal narrative, has been niggling away at my train of thought increasingly on this project. Two radio programmes have caught my interest and are worth a listen. The first, simply entitled Truth, digs into the history of the subject and the various philosophical ideas around it and was broadcast some time ago.
The second and much more recent broadcast covers an interview with the artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd discussing her new incarnation as Marvin. Performance artist and previous Turner prize nominee, this artist is not the first to take on an entirely new name (of which even her family and close friends must use) exploring the playful and more profound consequences that this conscious choice to enter into another persona facilitates.

For many who are homeless though, fluidity of identity and personal narrative is not safely fettered to some academic anthropological study or to experimental artistic endeavour but rather it’s unwieldy and unconscious evolution perhaps offers a coping mechanism to survive the state of rightly or wrongly perceived invisibility that people may experience.

As time has moved on I have come to realise that the individual stories I have come to associate people with, the gymnast who can walk up stairs on his hands, the sailor who single-handedly sailed the coast of America, the relative of the famous 50s movie star, the skilled stonemason, once millionaire businessman. Some will be true, some will have a grain of truth and some will be true perhaps only for the person themselves. In many ways, it seems unnecessary to know. I think am beginning to understand to hold the concept lightly.


Listen in pop-out player

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of truth. Pontius Pilate famously asked: what is truth? In the twentieth century, the nature of truth became a subject of particular interest to philosophers, but they preferred to ask a slightly different question: what does it mean to say of any particular statement that it is true? What is the difference between these two questions, and how useful is the second of them?