With their eyes looking ever so slightly up to meet the camera’s lens, Lee Jeffries’ subjects elicit an emotional response from those of us who come across their portraits. The furrows in their brows, the folds of their eye-lids, the dirt beneath their nails, the way their hair hangs about their faces, their gazes and hands wrought with despair – these are no cleverly posed models. These are the homeless from across the globe, going without in a modern world of excess.
A self-taught photographer from Manchester – England, and an accountant by day, Lee Jeffries has since a visit to London in 2008 captured hundreds of portraits of the homeless people from Rome, Los Angeles, New York, Vegas, and Miami, in order to raise attention to their plight, and encourage his audience the world over to assist. Lee Jeffries was in London for an event and was wandering the streets with his 5D camera and a long 70-200mm lens when he stole a photo of this young homeless girl huddled in a sleeping bag among chinese food containers across the street. She noticed him and started yelling drawing the attention of passers-by. Embarrassed, his first instinct was to leave. But he stopped. And something, he can’t say what, made him cross the street and actually engage in a conversation with the homeless drug addicted girl. That chance encounter would change his perspective , his style and the way he photographed people. Now, the homeless and their plight became the primary subjects of his art. ”Situations arose”, he says, “and I made an effort to learn to get to know each of the subjects before asking their permission to do their portrait.”
Rather than just snapping a picture and running along, Jeffries gets to know the subjects of his photos: “In an effort to make intimate portraits, Jeffries would try to connect with each person on an individual basis first. “I need to see some kind of emotion in my subjects,” Jeffries says. “I specifically look at people’s eyes—when I see it, I recognize it and feel it—and I repeat the process over and over again.” Jeffries tries to keep the contact as informal as possible. He rarely takes notes, feeling it immediately raises suspicion, and prefers to take pictures while he is talking with his subjects to capture the “real emotion” in them. “I’m stepping into their world,” he says. “Everyone else walks by like the homeless are invisible. I’m stepping through the fear, in the hope that people will realize these people are just like me and you.” [quote extract courtesy of Time magazine Lightbox – a fascinating story By Phil Bicker Read it here]
His homeless subjects, in turn, leave an impression on the photographer, such as Latoria, a 29 year-old homeless woman [below] he photographed when he was in Miami: “I spent time with her every day of my trip since our first meeting,” says Jeffries. “Her uncompromising addiction to crack cocaine was both obvious and tragic and I often watched helplessly as she fed that addiction.
Perhaps the most moving aspect for me was witnessing her almost child-like vulnerability. There was just something about her that just screamed the tragedy of a wasted life.”
TECHNIQUE / PROCESS: Other than a little software enhancement of the light and shadow – which Jeffries admits he processes with “in an almost religious way” – to “develop the mood of the eyes”, it is clear that the photographer is not seeking to create ground-breaking new techniques (in fact, his technique will appear familiar to those familiar with the work of Polish photographer Andrzej Dragan), but rather to break the silence on his subjects’ situation.
Jeffries’ portraits use traditional placement of the light (at ten or two o’clock, directionally-speaking), just as the great painters did hundreds of years ago when capturing townspeople and noblemen alike on canvas (think Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece Girl With A Pearl Earring / Het Meisje Met de Parel).
Unlike many viral campaigns you might see for various cause célèbres, Jeffries’ work and mission is having some success, as described by Times’ LightBox earlier this year: ” He uses his photography to draw attention to and raise funds for the homeless, posting the images to Flickr and entering the work into competitions.
Over the past three years Jeffries has placed third, second and second in an annual Amateur Photographer magazine award contest, and has won separate monthly contests which come with a camera as a reward. Each of the half dozen cameras he’s won has been donated to raise funds for charities, including homeless and disability organizations.
The proceeds from Jeffries’s Blurb book “Just Talkin”, which features homeless portraits, go to the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles and the photographer allows any charity to use his images free of charge.
Jeffries also runs the London and New York marathons to raise money for Shelter, a U.K. housing charity. He’s committed himself at a more personal level too, buying lunch for a man who had lost his fingers and toes to frostbite or taking a woman with a staph infection to the hospital when she was sick.
Jeffries estimates he has given thousands of dollars to these individuals, but what he has given them in terms of a sense of dignity and outpouring of concern is immeasurable.”
See more of LEE JEFFRIES here:
- FUBIZ Galleries has a huge 125 images in the Lee Jefferies gallery
- Lee Jeffiries FLICKR photostream (some color images too)
- Lee Jeffries’ 500.com gallery (pictures of street kids, babies, color images too)
- “Just Talkin” – Lee’s Blurb self-published book
- Lee was announced Winner of the Digital Camera Photographer of the Year 2011
- PAUL BIGNELL wrote a detailed piece on Lee Jeffries the day before “World Homeless Day” in the INDEPENDENT