THE BROADER PICTURE; Making their own beds

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The Independent Culture
THE BROADER PICTURE

WITH HIS simple studies of pathetic heaps of blankets and pillows and cardboard boxes on the streets of London, photographer Angus Boulton exposes the plight of the homeless - without showing a single homeless person. "Every year the papers do something on homelessness," he says, "and it's always something exploitative - usually someone looking very miserable, sitting on the pavement. I didn't want to intrude, or make any comment on the individual people themselves."

Boulton, 30, whose only formal training in photography was a part-time course in photojournalism at Tower Hamlets College last year, first had the idea for the project when he was working as a motorcycle courier.

"I worked as a courier for a long time, and since the benefits law changes, I noticed that there were so many more youngsters on the street. Something else that struck me was that you see so many blankets on the street or in doorways; I think they're sinister, a reminder that someone lives in that doorway. Everybody who's seen these pictures says, 'Oh, I notice blankets everywhere now.' "

The Single Homeless in London organisation estimates that, on any given night, around 1,000 people are sleeping rough in the capital. This shifting, transient population uses a variety of "bashes", or temporary shelters, as Boulton found when he investigated further.

"One I saw near London Bridge [shown immediately on the right] was like a hospital bed, with the sheet turned down neatly, and there was a box next to it that was being used as a bedside table. And behind the table there was a mop in a bag - if this guy had a home he'd be incredibly fastidious. When I went back with my camera, though, someone had shaken all the blankets out." Another set of sleeping bags and blankets (middle row, centre) had been folded and tucked out of the way of trampling feet behind a pillar near the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.

"Near Victoria Embankment there was a heap of blankets [top row, middle] covered by bread crates right in the middle of the walkway, and I thought, why leave it there? Then I saw there were lines of pigeon shit, and other places where the water was leaking - the owner had obviously left it in the cleanest, dryest place." (The rest, clockwise from top left, were taken in Lincoln's Inn, Lincoln's Inn again, the Law Courts, Victoria Embankment, South- ampton Row and, once more, Victoria Embankment.)

Boulton was careful not to disturb anything he found. "At first, a couple of times, I moved things, then I thought, 'No, that's not on, I don't want to cheat.' I use a straightforward hand-held camera, although it was difficult in some dark corners to photograph exactly what you see. I don't use a wide-angle lens or anything like that."

Sometimes the bashes would be in situ for months; others would disappear after a few days. "One guy's cardboard box kept getting demolished by someone who was obviously pissed off with it being there - it was a constant battle."

Boulton is modest about his work. "They're quite difficult photos - it would be easy to reject them out of hand. They're simplistic, but I didn't want to make them crisp and glossy. I didn't want to push them towards art. What I'd really like would be for a charity for the homeless to use them in a campaign - that way I'd be giving something back to the people whose stuff I photographed." !

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