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Out of Home – Kelly Francis – #12
Photography Kelly Francis

This photo project sees homeless people capture their lives during lockdown

The Out of Home project gave people living on London streets disposable cameras to document a unique perspective on coronavirus quarantine

Since COVID-19 hit the UK early last year, many of London’s renters have found themselves cooped up in cramped flatshares, often faced with looming eviction notices and exploitation at the hands of unsympathetic landlords. Others have fled the city, seeking greener pastures in which to ride out the pandemic. For many, though, leaving the city simply isn’t an option, nor do they get to decide whether they’ll be living with a roof over their heads.

“It felt a bit ironic that we were all being told to ‘stay at home’, and billions were being spent on propping up the economy so that we could all stay at home, while there were still some people literally with no home in which to stay,” says Dan Barker, one of the organisers behind the new photographic exhibition Out of Home. “There had been some talk early on that everyone would be housed... but not everyone was covered by any means, and some were covered only for a short period.”

Alongside his wife, Lucy Wood, Barker devised Out of Home as a way to support homeless people during lockdown, while documenting the deserted city streets. Together, they handed out hundreds of disposable cameras with a set of loose guidelines, and offered £20 up front for each completed camera.

“The first couple (of photographers) were friends of ours who we see regularly and talk to pretty much every day,” he says. “Other people floated in and out of the project, and some joined part way through and stuck with it throughout.”

“There were no deadlines or anything, so if circumstances changed, or if people just took the money and never returned the cameras, that was fine. The main motivation was basically to try and help out a small amount, at a difficult time in the world, and allow people creative control if they did want to be involved.”

In the end, Barker and Wood received “many thousands” of photographs showcasing the perspectives of those without homes during lockdown, and the unique challenges they have faced. 

Joe Pengelly, one of the photographers that took part in the project, tells Dazed that the cameras were his only income for the most part, since the Big Issue was shut down due to COVID restrictions. “Before this I was having to beg,” he says, and the reduced foot traffic on the streets came with its own difficulties. “There was literally no one around and obviously people weren’t supposed to be on the street so I was getting a lot of grief from police and security.”

The funds from the photography project “meant that I wasn’t having to beg and could get by easier,” he adds. “Without this it was very hard and not a very nice period.”

Now, Pengelly’s snapshots of the city are collected alongside those of five other photographers in an Out of Home photo book. Throughout summer, an exhibition is also being hosted at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in memory of Kelly Francis, one of the photographers who died unexpectedly during the course of the project, aged 39. 

Profits from both will go to the photographers (with a small percentage going to St Martin-in-the-Fields) alongside the original payments and funds from an extended print sale run via the project’s website.

“The income was really useful,” says Pengelly. “But I’d say the biggest highlight was seeing the photos at the exhibition. Knowing that people like my work and they’ve bought some of the prints I’ve made and some of the books.”

Barker agrees that seeing people buy the photographer’s prints or book “on the basis of their work, and the unique spot in history their work documents – the view from people in the world’s capital, who were ‘out of home’ while we were all told to ‘stay at home’ – is perhaps the highlight”.

The Out of Home exhibition will run at St Martin-in-the-Fields through summer, and is open Thursday to Sunday. Out of Home’s print and book sale can be found here