“I see glimpses of something wonderful, but I don’t get to hold it”

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When Curtis’s father died and his family lost their home, his life began to spiral out of control. As part of the CALM x 1854 Homeless Truths commission, a new series of Polaroids sheds light on his experience of homelessness

Curtis was not always sure about taking part in the CALM x 1854 Homeless Truths commission. “I have never been a photograph person,” he says.  And besides, was his experience of homelessness even a story he wanted to tell. “I come from a proud family. And I have a lot of pride.”

But then something changed. “A lightbulb came on,” says Curtis, “and I was really taken with the project.” Organised by 1854 in collaboration with Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – a UK-based charity that works to prevent suicide – the commission offers a frank and unfiltered insight into homelessness in London, told through the medium of photography. 

The project’s participants were each given a Polaroid camera and, with the support and guidance of documentary photographer Inzajeano Latif, tasked with creating a series of images that speaks of their experiences. Latif’s work focuses on giving a voice to individuals who are often overlooked by society.  This project is no different; over the course of nine months, Latif created a body of work that tells the stories of five individuals who have all experienced homelessness at some point in their life. 

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021

“It was very much about building faith and trust in each other, and then things just started to flow.”

-Inzajeano Latif

Latif first met Curtis in late -2020. Initially, the two would simply talk, both on the phone and face to face. “It was very much about building faith and trust in each other,” says Latif, “and then things just started to flow.” The two would often speak about photography. “It began to make sense,” says Curtis. “I started to think, ‘Could I translate everything I have gone through in my life into this form of art?’” Three months after Curtis was first given a camera, he began to take photographs.

Curtis was taken with the fervour that comes with creating an image. “Pressing that shutter was just like hitting a target,” he says. “If I was in a boxing fight, it would be like throwing a good punch. I really get myself into a stance when I take a photograph. I straighten up and focus all my energy. I put everything into it.” Curtis was also keen to learn. “He worked so hard and he was so diligent,” says Latif. “He was always thinking about the light and the composition. He would often return to something he photographed multiple times to get that shot exactly right, – making sure the version in his head translated to a photograph;. The version that best relates to his story.”

Curtis’s approach was to photograph scenes from his life: – places of significance, things that have meaning. The resulting images are striking in their honesty. They do not shy away or sugarcoat; rather, they are upfront, emotional, provocative. “This was the house [that] me and the family were living in after we lost the family home.  At one point this house got burgled which ended up in me going AWOL, sending me off the rails,” reads one caption. “This was the spot where I was involved in an incident that was partly an accident landing me in prison again and led to me being homeless for the 7th time!!!”, reads another. 

Curtis has lived in London his whole life. He grew up in East Dulwich in a house he shared with his  mother, father, brother and sister. His father was a black cab driver and his mother, a social worker. They would often foster children. “We were that family that always had space for someone if they needed a place to stay,” says Curtis. “There would always be more than enough food if you were hungry.”

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021

Things became difficult for Curtis when his father died. The family lost their home in the stock market recession and Curtis began to struggle with his mental health. “I took my dad’s passing really bad and was really depressed for a few years,” he says. “I was 23 and since then my life has been anything but normal; spiralling out of control at times, getting from bad to worse and ending up with me being sent to prisons all over.” During this time, Curtis has experienced multiple periods of homelessness. “Honestly, since I went to prison, I just got used to living really rough and not caring,” he says., “But God willing one day I can get back to living some kind of normal life again.”

The emotion bound in Curtis’s images is undeniable. “There is a lot of thought that has gone into each framed moment,” says Latif. “Many of the images are incredibly layered. They are poetic, sensitive and they are emotional.” But revealing the vulnerable side of his character is not something that comes naturally to Curtis. “One of the things Curtis and I spoke about was his concern in revealing these aspects of himself,”’ says Latif. “We also spoke about his experiences and his life and how we would attempt to tell that story through photography.” The project also marks a shift for Curtis. “I used to be more concerned with my outer appearance and how I would look to others,” he reflects, “but with this project I just brought myself. I brought my truth.”

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 20211854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Curtis Naulty 2021

“I always see beauty, but then something happens and my life seems to unravel. I see glimpses of something wonderful but I don’t get to hold it. I see it though, I see flashes all the time, then my life descends into something.”

– Curtis Naulty

For CALM, encouraging people to talk about how they feel, especially when it comes to their mental health, is important. “It can be really tough to find the words to explain what you’re going through when you’re struggling,” says Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM.  “Talking to your friends or family about your mental health can be really difficult. But, at CALM, we also know starting the conversation has loads of potential benefits — most importantly, increased support and reassurance. And when you’re deep in anxiety or depression, this extra support can really make a vital difference. We also know that the more we talk about it, the more likely we’ll feel comfortable in seeking support when it’s needed, and so will others around us.”

Of all his images, Curtis has a favourite. “The last one, ‘A Moment of Paradise’,” he says, without a second’s hesitation. In the image, a lone magpie perches on a branch. Trees perfectly frame a blue sky dappled with clouds. “It is about something I have always seen in my life,” he explains. “I always see beauty, but then something happens and my life seems to unravel. I see glimpses of something wonderful but I don’t get to hold it. I see it though, I see flashes all the time, then my life descends into something.”

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Curtis Naulty 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Curtis Naulty 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Curtis Naulty 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Curtis Naulty 2021

For Latif, the image that stands out is one titled ‘The Rose That Came From Concrete’. “It is so subtle and yet so powerful, so weighty,” says Latif. If you were walking down the street and you saw that, you would really have to stop and soak it in to let it resonate.” 

For Curtis, the images have an additional purpose. “I do want to give people hope,” he says. Some of the images are for that – to let people know that they can be in a situation that feels impossible to get out of, and then something beautiful can come. Something beautiful when things are not looking so great.”

For more information visit CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)


Each of the participants’ projects will be published on 1854.photography this week. They each received compensation for their work. 

Café Art, an organisation that empowers homeless artists in London,  and Evolve, a housing and support charity, were both instrumental in finding and supporting the individuals that took part in this project. CALM has also helped support the participants throughout the project and will continue to support them after the campaign. 


@inzajeano

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Explore the full project here: