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In the Picture: On your doorstep, photography and poverty

Images and text by Sophia Spring


Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.


Photographers Liz Hingley and Gideon Mendel speaking about their work at the Frontline Club.

Diana Smythe, deputy editor of the British Journal of Photography, was last night joined by Save the Children's Chris Wellings, and photographers Liz Hingley and Gideon Mendel to discuss the depiction of poverty within their work.

Both photographers have explored this concept through divergent approaches. While Liz has documented communities living in the UK, Gideon has predominantly spent the last 2 decades photographing the spread of AIDS, and more recently climate change, and its impact amongst some of the world's poorest people.

Liz Hingley's slideshow of her project 'Under Gods: stories from Soho Road' started proceedings (http://www.lizhingley.com/work/under_gods/). Her interest in "multi faith urban communities" led her to choose Soho Road as her subject matter because it is a "street with many different worlds within it" where the "everyday life of religious practice" is prevalent, she explained. It is a body of work that has garnered much acclaim and numerous awards including the Ian Parry scholarship.  This prize resulted in Hingley's involvement with Save the Children, who asked her to participate in a project exploring child poverty in the UK.

This ongoing project centres on the Jones', a white British family of seven living in a three-bedroom house in Wolverhampton. Taking us through the images Hingely talked of her "initial shock" at their living conditions. Over time she has acclimatised to the environment, and now sees it as a place full of a "lot of love". She has forged close relationships with the members of the family, celebrating "Christmas and birthdays" with them. Hingley insists that these relationships are very important as her "engagement with people" and the "collaborative process" that stems from this is central to her work. As a result her photographs humanely capture the everyday existence of those living in poverty, without veering into the terrain of stereotypes or reductive representation.

She says of the experience, "it has really opened my eyes...the issues are always in the background (concerning money)...they're constantly there".

Up next was Gideon Mendell who acknowledged that depicting poverty is a "problematic concept" and one that has forced him to question his role as a photographer. After years of covering AIDS and natural disasters he began to feel that he "had nothing left to say".

This has led him to "engage in the field of collaborative photography" in his most recent project '3EyesOn' (http://www.3eyeson.org/). Pupils at Kingsmead School in Hackney, one of the UK's most deprived areas, were given cameras to capture their daily lives. "No photographer can access the lives of poverty like a poor kid can themselves" said Mendell.

Photographer Gideon Mendel speaking about his work at the Frontline Club.

According to Chris Wellings from Save The Children poverty in the UK is "a phenomenon that's not particularly apparent". Hingley agreed that it is very "hard to translate this issue in images", and Mendell assented that it is far easier to depict poverty in the third world where there is "clear deprivation". Here in the UK he said, it manifests itself in less obvious ways, such as poor diet.

In light of this, Mendell and Hingley find that a collaborative approach achieves an "access and intimacy" that allows poverty to be photographed in a nuanced way. Chris Wellings hopes that photographs like theirs can "create a case" and a "demand for change" leading to the reduction and eventual elimination of child poverty.