New Chichester photographic exhibition highlights the homeless

Caroline Bridle and Cleo the Dog
Caroline Bridle and Cleo the Dog

A new Chichester exhibition will make you think again about the plight of the homeless.

It will be at Chichester’s Oxmarket Gallery from December 4-20 as a fundraiser for Stonepillow, one of the charities adopted by Oxmarket chairman Martyn Bell during his term of office as Mayor of Chichester.

Founded in 1989, Stonepillow is a charity which provides a lifeline for homeless people with hubs, hostels and supported accommodation in Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The exhibition comes from Emma Schwarz in collaboration with photographer Dan Stevens.

As Emma explains: “Martyn was enlightening me about the work that Stonepillow is doing and has done. I thought it was all about food and shelter and so on, but there is so much more to it. He was telling me about a particular programme that is about an educational course that enables homeless people to redo or do their maths and English and core GSCEs and then do an equivalent of a BTec course that enables them to go on to do a number of BAs. They are really helping people all the way to get back into normality and work.

“I said to Martyn that I would like to help the charity and raise some money. I watched a BBC documentary about an artist in LA who was disheartened with the way the problem of homelessness was getting worse and worse and worse. He was also a bit disheartened with his job. He had been an artist at school and wanted to go back to it.

“Every morning he would pass a particular gentleman who was homeless and he started to talk to him and find out about him, and he said he wanted to paint this man’s portrait. He was going to create an exhibition called The Elephant in the Room. He ended up painting a lot of these guys and created a wonderful portrait exhibition, celebrating their faces. The whole thing was very successful.

“We are calling out exhibition It’s Not Just Black And White. I have worked with Dan who is a wonderful photographer. We went to Stonepillow in Bognor and we worked with Stonepillow to see who would be prepared to be interviewed about their story and have their picture taken. Dan has taken some very moving black-and-white pieces and taken them on film and has got them processed in the traditional way. I did the interviews and we spoke to 11 people and a dog!”

The idea of the title is that we can’t just make assumptions, assuming that homeless people are people who have had a bad childhood when everything went wrong. Lots of homeless people are people who have had jobs, careers and marriages – and for whom things started to go wrong later in life, a lost job perhaps leading to a lost marriage and a lost mortgage and homelessness.

“Stonepillow had about 24 hours’ notice, and we didn’t want more than 15 people. And they had to be prepared to attend a photo shoot and be interviewed. A couple of them were people who had had a very normal life until recently when suddenly it all went wrong for them. They were very interested in trying to convey that, that homeless people are not just drug addicts. And some of them were just very cool people who just wanted to tell their story.”

The hope is to raise money for Stonepillow by getting people to sponsor the photographs as they progress to other venues: “We are hoping that it will be shown in other places and people will sponsor the pictures on their journey.”

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