I recently attended a documentary photography workshop. One question I had was how could I be braver about asking and taking photographs of people in their houses and then being able to use them for positive purposes? The tutor gave me a lengthy answer and the gist was about building relationships, building trust. There was a sense of just getting on with it.
Prior to the workshop we were asked to think about documentary photographers whose work we admired. For me the answer was simple: Nick Hedges, and his photographs taken for Shelter. I don’t really know the words I would use to describe his photographs and they have probably all been used before anyway, but without a doubt for me his photographs are beautifully haunting, human and unforgettable.
It was therefore timely that with the workshop I was prompted to try to find out a bit more information about Nick Hedges and his work and happened across his relatively new website. Here, he has a section on Slum Housing and Poverty and captures families in a never-ending cycle of poverty and area clearance and redevelopment and how this affected people.
I attended his exhibition in the Science Museum in London in 2014 where I recognised some of the photographs but was interested to discover that he had also taken photos in hostels in Harlesden, not far from Stonebridge Park, where I can recall the latter end of the redevelopment project around the same time that he took his photographs. We have since been in touch which for me has been amazing!
More recently I came across Tish Murtha on Twitter and visited the Photographers Gallery to see her work exhibited (Tish Murtha: Works 1976-1991). Her photography is equally impressive and documents the late 1970s onwards largely in the North East of England, where she was from. Her sense of social justice and community is very visual and clear. She also wrote about Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle which was so compelling that it was used in evidence in a House of Commons debate in 1981. Housing conditions and environments are evident in her photography. Her daughter is continuing her legacy, including through this website, and I for one may not have come across her photography otherwise.
Nick Hedges and Tish Murtha provide us with enormous impetus and strength to recognise what is unacceptable and what we can do about it, but also to know that we are not alone in thinking so. On that note, the Faculty of Public Health is currently running a photography competition entitled Public Health Looks Like This. Housing is frequently left out of the public health debate despite its importance as a social determinant of health on so many levels. If you are interested, you can find out more details here and who knows, maybe you could help bring housing to the fore. It still needs all the help it can get.