In a new collaboration with Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), British Journal of Photography has selected Inzajeano Latif to work on a ten-week commission documenting the lives of people experiencing homelessness in London. With the aim of creating a project which is extensive, honest, and intimate, Latif will also offer photographic mentorship to ten people who are currently homeless, each of whom will be given a Polaroid camera and asked to document their lives. Alongside Latif’s project, the images will create a collective photographic exploration of homelessness as it is experienced by those living it.
Latif is a documentary photographer with years of experience in creating nuanced, empathetic portraits. One of his most significant bodies of work is This is Tottenham, a work which eventually led him to examine his own past. When Latif moved to Tottenham from Bradford aged 10, he found himself in a new and unforgiving environment. “I was caught in this strange landscape all of a sudden,” Latin recalls. “I used to get picked on, beaten up, racially abused.”
Years later, studying for a BA in Photography at Middlesex University, and afterwards working in darkrooms and on early editorial assignments, the British-Pakistani photographer discovered the medium was a language with which he could explore and interrogate the world around him. Through his work, he found he had a means to understand his complicated relationship to Tottenham. “The series started to unravel my own relationship with myself; my dad, who I’ve not seen in decades; my place in the world,” he says. “Then everything else started to emerge: race, brutality, areas that are heavily underfunded, the struggles that people face, and how I fit into all that.”
Latif’s enduring approach prioritises an emotional core upon which to build a project, rather than seeking inherently visual subject matter and looking to uncover its emotional component after the fact. “It’s really important that I photograph people I care about,” he explains. Latif cites social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin as an important influence, and in particular his series The Forgotten Ones, a decades-long project documenting dispossessed working people and families in Buffalo, New York. “What you see is that there’s this common engagement with him and the people that he’s photographing,” he describes of Rogovin’s work. “It’s not, ‘us and them’. It’s ‘us’. The whole thing is ‘us’, which I find really powerful.”
CALM is an organisation with a similar ethos of engagement and solidarity. Their mission is to unite the UK against suicide, and they are dedicated to standing together with everyone who struggles with life, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they’re going through. It’s a movement as much as an organisation, one made up of thousands of people all with one goal: a more hopeful society in which people reject living miserably, get help when they need it, and don’t die by suicide.
The photographer makes the majority of his work out on the streets, creating what he calls “considered street portraits” using a heavy medium format camera and tripod, a necessarily slow and deliberate process. There isn’t a particular type of subject he looks for; instead, he prioritises the connection between himself and the person in front of his lens. “It’s about how that engagement is going to come through when it’s on the negatives, and when that negative in turn turns into a print,” says Latif. “There has to be this feeling, this emotion, this sense of mutual understanding. It’s not me that’s photographing them: this is about us, this is our story.”
Latif’s work in Tottenham eventually led him to visit Lincoln Heights, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he has been working on an ongoing documentary project for the last four years. One of the first Black suburbs, Lincoln Heights was an area where freed slaves were able to buy land cheaply as there was no pre-existing infrastructure: no wiring, no sewage works. “These first inhabitants of Lincoln Heights built it through the sweat and tears and blood of all their own work,” says Latif. “The series looks at this resilient struggle of home, and place, and what it feels like when you’ve got systemic racism, systemic oppression; you’re living in a landscape that really doesn’t work for you, it’s actually built to work against you.”
The project is linked to Latif’s work in Tottenham in its insistent focus on areas that the photographer believes have been overlooked, or worse. “The way that these areas are represented is very negative,” he says. His work seeks instead to give a voice back to places that so far have been deprived of one. “It’s about highlighting that we’re all human beings. All of a sudden, you start to peel back all these layers and look behind the image, and you start to see that these are ignored people, ignored areas. They’re overlooked, they’re underrepresented.”
The Homeless Truths project is a natural continuation of Latif’s themes, whose engaged approach is the driving force behind his work. “It really follows on and feeds into the work I’ve been doing already,” the photographer says of the commission. “It’s about having this deep care, this affection, and a sense of empowerment.”
The photographer, both in his work and his own life, is acquainted with experiences of marginalisation and alienation, and it is this common ground which he will bring to bear on his work and collaborations with the participants in the Homeless Truths project. “I’m hoping that some of my experiences can relate to their experiences, and we can find a common ground,” he says. “Everything that I work on, and all the photographs I make, really need to represent that first. That we’re the same. This could be your neighbour, this could be your friend.”