Paul Martin’s series of portraits aims to give people experiencing homelessness the dignity and compassion they deserve
“I wanted to create a photobook, something that showed the wide range of people I had seen coming into the drop-in, not as homeless or vulnerably housed people, but as human beings,” says Paul Martin, the photographer behind A Seat at the Fireside, a new photobook of studio portraits of people experiencing homelessness in Birmingham. The project began during his time volunteering at a homeless shelter, when Martin felt a desire to help the people he met in a tangible way. With his new photobook, 100 per cent of the profits will be donated to three homelessness charities: Crisis, Shelter, and Change into Action.
Martin’s aim was to photograph people experiencing homelessness without exploitation, pity or cliche; to show them as normal people, he says. “I didn’t want to focus on their circumstance or current situation by photographing them in the street or bedsit,” Martin continues. “This would hopefully allow the viewer to see the real person, not the ‘homeless or vulnerably housed’ person. I also wanted to make them feel special, to feel ‘seen’ and to enjoy the moment.” He describes the images as capturing “real people with character and soul, who, for whatever reason, had found themselves in a difficult situation”.
Martin was able to pursue the project through the support of his then employer, Birmingham-design company The Mighty Shed, which funded the project and publication costs. Because of this donation, all proceeds from the book can go back towards the three charities it supports.
“I really hope that people see my images and feel something,” says Martin. “Engage with the sitter and smile, laugh or even cry. I hope this serves to change people’s perceptions and make them think a little more the next time they encounter someone in need.”
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.