ENTER iF YOU CAN
A book about being homeless in London
Photographs: Martin Toft words:
The title for this book was graffiti'd on the entrance
to a homeless person's bash (semi-permanent home built from scavenged
materials) and summon up my relationship with London and the people
I met on the streets since arriving in 1996 and my own turbulent
years of travel and unsettlement. The photographs are a representation
of intimate portrayals of rough sleepers, people in hostels and
other vulnerable housing. During my documentary I liased with journalist
and author Mark Piggott, who himself has experienced homelessness
and written widely about it for national newspapers. In our book
we have attempted to make a personal and lyrical interpretation
of the street phenomena and spirit. A contemporary book, that shows
the invisible barrier in our society - reflecting on ourselves -
and the time we are living in.
The very fact that we now step over people without
seeing them, turn our eyes away from Big Issue sellers and mothers
with children, and wants the streets made tidy for 'normal' people
again are symptomatic of a cut throat culture where your neighbour
is no longer your friend, they are your rival. Politicians and economists
have for a long time hijacked Darwinism to explain dog-eat-dog social
attitude and the theory of divide and rule is ancient. But borders
are breaking down in pre-Millenium Britain and there is no obvious
reason to see the world from the point of view of the people living
rough, to understand what needs are being accommodated by the real
sense of freedom they get from staying outside, meeting new people,
to see the things and be part of the City - also if it means dying
in that place. They are homeless for a reason, but every huddled
figure is also a remainder of our own fragility, our tenuous position
in the scheme of things. Just as everyone on earth is only three
meals from barbarism, so most of us are a month's pay cheque from
the streets. All that divides us and them - but do we have to know
who they are, have to know what separates them from me and you?
But taking thousands of photographs, talking to
a few hundred people about their lives and put it together in a
book is not going to bridge the gap between 'society' and those
in the pictures. Very few people can (or want to) cross that bridge,
because they are uncomfortable with the fact that this hidden world
is a product of themselves. Society would rather classify them and
give them names. So many people try to become part of these people's
lives and then turn them into whatever they think they should be.
You cannot just name people without asking them their name first
- it will not make them go away.
In our book: ENTER iF YOU CAN we have tried to turn
the nameless, the faceless and the homeless into peole you could
know - people you could even become. It is not a romantic identification
but a journey of self-discovery. It is about longing and belonging.
Longing to be wanted, needed, loved and the sense of belonging to
someone or somewhere. It is about escaping the reality and the world
that we make us feel pressured by and take control of our own freedom.
It is a personal consciousness about our own flawed lives and experiences
of being part of that invisible world.
This book is about us (society) and
not about us. It is trying to tell us that we are not the only ones
who matters! But we do not assert to portray any particular reality
than that of our own story. There is no single picture (or millions)
which can encapsulate the truth of the street homeless phenomena.
Even attempting to find the truth would be the same as trying to
give answers to the great mystery of mankind; where, why, who and
what are we?
There is a meaning to it all, but what remains are the images, moments,
memories and a challenge to confront us with some of the burning
issues as we move towards the 21st century.
Mark Piggott's text: Pixelation
Martin Toft, June 1999