10 years ago whilst studying documentary photography at Newport I worked part-time at a notorious homeless shelter in Cardiff. There I met Paddy and Linda, a homeless couple who I had met on the streets.
They had both been through harrowing times in their lives. They had just been kicked out of the shelter and were living under a railway bridge, in a small storage tunnel. Both of them spent the day sleeping, waking only to get up and buy heroin so they could ready their bodies for the night ahead. And yet they were two of the kindest and cleverest people I ever met. Linda was from an affluent background but had been abused by two partners and ended up running away to London and life on the streets. Paddy had been brought up in children’s’ homes. When he was fourteen he was sent to one in south Wales where he was constantly sexually abused before escaping to live on the streets. One day, whilst not in his right mind, he left the gas on in his kitchen — the scars on his body are a painful number of years spent in and out of the hospital after that.
One day I was sorting out my old files when I found a box of old contact sheets. I remember when I just starting my studies, I had moved to Cardiff and began taking these photographs for a college project. I was inept and very often made mistakes with the large camera I was using: it shook and the light and exposure was always bad. I decided to re-appropriate these old contacts sheets of Paddy and Linda. They show creases, cuts and tears, dust and the damage of years but at the same time they reveal a truth that I wasn’t really aware of at the time when I was a naïve student. Trying to please my Professors at the time I had originally forsaken these photographs due to their technical flaws but now with photographic and life maturity I now see these images honesty.
Without contrivance I now believe they show a true representation of the human condition. As for Paddy and Linda after one month of photographing them I never returned, I never showed them my photos. They had been kind to me, offering me food and even a bicycle once; they never forced drugs on to me or asked for money. I still remember them, I still feel guilty. They trusted me and let me into their nail-hard lives for a while and I never let them into my privileged life. I guess they are both dead now; I guess I’ll never know. These contacts of ghosts bring them back to life for a short time, a reminder before they are put back in a box. Its good that photographers may see these rough images and remind themselves that the people they photograph are real people, they existed. Don’t forget your subjects.
About Kirk Ellingham
Although this work constitutes just a small part of my ideas and projects, it is nonetheless representative of my on going focus and strategy in dealing with the world and its problems using the photograph as my tool. From the ‘Portrait to Narrative’ I try to express the places and people I know and meet through my eyes as a personnel witness a participant in life not just an observer. With my work I am often dealing with the transient and often surreal aspects of the human condition and the concept of the ‘photographic Journey’ be that an emotional or physical one. So as time passes I am continuously trying to fathom the hard facts of life: its loves, despair, anxieties and hopes through these small stories, both intimate and distant, both foreign and here upon my own doorstep. After dropping out of Art school in 1988 I worked in many different jobs around the world from Catering to fruit picking.
In 2003 I returned to my passion photography attending the Documentary photography course at Newport with teachers Ken Grant & Clive Landen also taking part in a mentorship at FAMU School Prague with Czech photographer ‘Viktor Kolar’ and exhibiting as a group at Merano Italy. After this I assisted and did some theatre work in London then went to teach, work and photography in Brazil, Pargauay and Bolivia. In 2006 I did my MA with Paul Lowe at LCC graduating with a distinction for my work: Four Years in Bielany, about Chechen refugees in Warsaw. I received a distinction for this work and it was published in PRIVATE PHOTOJOURNALISM magazine in 2010 and exhibited as a group at Arles and at Tbilisi photo festival in 2011. It is now a blurb-funded book. Since then apart from day job I have been teaching in Oxford and producing photo workshops in Georgia. I am completing work on social abstractions and literature and poetry inspired projects in my hometown of Oxford and abroad in Poland, Romania and Georgia. I continue to look for funding and grants to complete and expose work, something I feel passionate about, as it serves no purpose to me if my work just sits in a portfolio or is only viewed briefly online. I would like to see more of my work and collaborations published and I am always looking to involve academics and institutions in my ideas and structure. I enjoy collaborations with other artists and photographers, writers and curators. I started a collective project HOME|LANDS and now it is its 2nd year with two projects completed. [Official Website]