Photography by Katie Heffernan and Victoria Schofield
Words Harry Potts
Bolton photographer Lee Jeffries, born 1971, has received international acclaim for his powerful portraits of homeless people. His work is uncompromising, thought provoking and intensely intimate.
After an emotional chance encounter with a homeless girl on a visit to London in 2008, Lee sharpened his focus on the subject matter of street photography. The homeless people in and around Manchester city centre became his first photographic subjects. His body of work now includes the homeless of Las Vegas, New York, London, Paris, Rome and Skid Row in Los Angeles.
Every wrinkle, scar and hair is accentuated in the faces of his subjects, their weathered skin and intense gazes, tell of the hardship of life on the streets – perhaps better than any spoken words.
We met Lee in a coffee shop in Manchester city centre where he talked at length with Katie and Vicky about his work. He told us how he spares no detail in his images.
“Many people assume I manipulate my work in Photoshop, the reality is I artistically enhance the detail already present in the image by carefully controlling the highlights and shadows”.
It seems as if these portraits were shot in a studio, when in reality he has just a few moments to capture them in natural light, out on the street, before his subjects get bored or change their minds.
Lee explained how he makes use of a narrow depth of field in his photography, with the point of focus always concentrated on the subject’s eyes.
“It’s the eyes and the story behind them which convey a person’s character and emotions”.
When asked about how he approaches photographing the homeless, Lee explains. “I’m always polite, I stay and talk for as long as they are comfortable having me there and offer them something, be it food, money or even just a hug.”
Lee chose Warwick St in the city’s Northern Quarter for the Greater Mancunians shoot. On a wall in this hidden street there is mural of two pensioners kissing, a tribute to one of Lee’s images by Parisian street artist C215 – the moniker of Christian Guémy, described as “The French Banksy”.
Katie and Vicky made good use of this compact location, photographing Lee with strong composition and viewpoint.
Katie Heffernan: student
“I always wondered how he pictured such vulnerable people with a sense that he knows them so well. It was amazing to hear his stories and learn about the dedication behind his work.”