Nick Hedges really is the most astonishing documentary photographer. When I found that his book was going to be published, I just had to get a copy. Fifty year’s on, his work for Shelter still provides impetus. You can read more about some of Nick’s inspirations in his work here.
I have worked in housing for some 30 years so have been involved with so many households and colleagues supporting those enduring poor housing conditions and mindful that it is unlikely that their situation is likely will ever change very much. However I have also seen some households lives utterly transformed when either their existing house is brought to standard, or they are offered an alternative.
Much has been written about Nick Hedges photography which is compelling, both beautiful and haunting at the same time. He captures in a unique way the real lives of those living in poor housing through the 1960s and 1970s but his photos of course remain timeless and aa reminder of the ongoing need for decent, secure and affordable housing for all.
What these photographs show is that for some communities, housing conditions had barely improved since the documentary Housing Problems (1935). More recently the film The 14 is also interesting as this would have been filmed near Harlesden, during an area clearance programme in the 1970s, around the same time Nick was taking photos in the vicinity.
The importance of not just housing, but also a home, for everyone is immense, throughout their lives. A range of policies in the past have sought to tackle the interrelated issues, some with great effect and others less so. There is current no political drive to tackle this and the current housing market is really not working.
Nick’s photographs continue to remind us that everything is at stake if we don’t provide appropriate housing options. He tells us: “The families and individuals in these photographs are from the poorest sections of society; the elderly, single parent families, the unemployed, and young couples just starting their family life. It was intolerable then, as it is intolerable now, that our wealthy society finds itself unable to answer this affront to human justice.”
This new book really adds substantially to how we can all better understand housing policy and what it feels like – day in, day out – to those with little hope that things will ever change.
My own photographs of poor housing are without a doubt my most valuable teaching resource, but Nick’s photographs go so much further since they are about the people who live there. His patience, humility and talent is demonstrated in the relationships he develops between himself, the people and his camera, demonstrating the trust he creates in capturing their “resignation and type of hopeless patience”, without any alternative housing as an option.
He also talks about the meaning of rooms for example the bedroom as somewhere to rest and mend, and kitchens as a place of activity and collective identify but with poor housing, these very functions come into question, compounding the complex meanings of trying to create home
Nick is right in saying, “(t)he link between ill health and bad housing still exists today” as many working in private sector housing regulation know only too well.
There is little more really that I can say because Nick Hedge’s photographs speak for themselves.
For other posts on Nick Hedges work see: