‘Odyssey’ is a body of work that aims to represent the stories of those who are in the process of escaping homelessness by presenting each participant’s journey toward secured housing through photography contributed by the participants themselves.
The title, ‘Odyssey’, comes from the Greek poem of the same name, in which the Greek king Odysseus wanders the seas for ten years on his way back to Ithica after the Trojan War. Odysseus endures hardships whilst discovering countless wonders and adventures along the way. I find this story to be metaphorically similar to that of the participants and the concept of this project, that being to document the journey of the participants out of homelessness and simultaneously discover themselves through collaboration and social skills mentoring. My role within this work is to act as the curator of a shared experience that is defined by the subjects alone, bringing the participatory role that defines social practice to the forefront of the work, whilst simultaneously performing the role of the mentor, tutoring the ability to create stories from photographs to participants.
I am taking this approach because too many projects that explore this community are often voyeuristic to an extent that is harmful to the people they aim to represent and are incredibly intrusive on the lives of those going through hardship.
I am interested in this subject matter as someone who grew up in a predominantly working-class area, seeing first-hand the effects of austerity, recession and subsequent poverty on the community around me. I am motivated by the lack of honest, accurate representation of those escaping homelessness in contemporary art. Artists such as Anthony Luvera and Tony Mallon whose practice challenges the intrusive notions associated with documentary photography are of significant influence on the work and my approach to working alongside this community.
This work also acts as a collaborative piece with Lancaster-based theatre artist Emma Rucastle, local homeless charity ‘Let’s Be Friends’, and Lancaster-based hostel, Oak Tree House, as we seek to develop a multi-format body of work that stretches across image, sound, and written word representations. Each week, we are setting a topic for participants to explore through the utilisation of the techniques we will tutor in each session, to then have the participants curate a body of work that forms a narrative of their journey.
Through this body of work, I will provide a platform to those who wish their stories to be shared, to be able to better understand the concerns of those escaping homelessness. I will investigate this line of inquiry through active, two-way engagement in the photographic process with the subjects of the work, as well as engagement with other figures such as those from the ‘Let’s Be Friends’ charity who are often volunteers with their own experiences of rough sleeping, and support staff at Oak Tree House. Through this engagement, we can create a body of work that is truly representative and supportive of participants as they seek to start living outside of sheltered accommodation and into secured housing.
I will know I have achieved the ambitions I set out with when I have established a fluid and continuous platform through which future stories can be told, accurately, and by those who historically have had little representation. This platform and method of representation will be utilized as a routine for people who are often without, yet often in need of routine, which could provide voice and agency to those who have mostly been neglected and rejected a voice of their own in art and wider media.
We aim for this long-term project to culminate in an exhibition within the public realm, in locations that the participants deem important to their stories, and provide a tour of the exhibition locations to the public, including spoken-word performances by the participants’ location space.