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book cover
below is description of book project

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installation view from solo-show
Sat Ud! Hjemløs i London, 12.05-11.07.1999
Worker's Museum, Copenhagen


A book about being homeless in London

Photographs: Martin Toft words: Mark Piggott

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.

read Mark Piggott's text: Pixelation

Martin Toft, June 1999