“I was trying to show survival, whatever that looks like”

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Wayne is a photographer, a musician and a trained chef. He has also been homeless. As part of the CALM x 1854 Homeless Truths commission, his new series of Polaroids offers a window into his life

For years, Wayne has been battling mental health issues including depression and anxiety. He has been sectioned several times; on occasions suicidal. Wayne is in a difficult place. “I’m just surviving,” he says. At the time of writing, Wayne is living in a house of multiple occupancy (HMO), wherein facilities like the toilet and kitchen are shared with other tenants. But prior to this, he was sleeping on the streets of London.

“I speak very well and present myself well,” he reflects, “so a lot of people assume that there are no problems in my life. They assume that I’m okay, when I’m not.”

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Wayne Chin 2021

“I was trying to show survival, whatever that looks like,” he says. “The struggle and how I get by day-to-day; how I maintain my humanity.”

-Wayne Chin

In the time he spent homeless, he preferred to be somewhat unassuming: tucked away from view, sleeping underneath a railway arch or the return of a stairwell at the bottom of a tower block. To a passerby, Wayne was all but invisible; easy to ignore. “I look just like a normal person, so in a way that brings a normality to it,” he says. “It makes it easy for people to forget. But I want people to know – especially those living in London – that these are the problems that people are facing. It is very real.”

Wayne is one of five participants who have been working alongside documentary photographer Inzajeano Latif as part of a photography commission organised by Studio 1854 in collaboration with Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). CALM is a UK-based charity that works to prevent suicide through facilitating positive discussion around mental health. For the duration of the project, each of the participants – all of whom have, at one point or another, been homeless – were given a Polaroid camera. With the support and guidance of Latif, they were tasked with creating a series of images that speaks to their experiences. Latif too created his own body of work. 

“The link between mental distress and homelessness is a complex one,” says Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM. “But what we do know is that 80% of people who are currently homeless have reported struggling with their mental health, and suicide is the second most common cause of death for people experiencing homelessness. We also want to reach more people who need CALM‘s services and let them know that if they’re struggling, they’re not alone.” 

Wayne’s images are deeply personal. The Polaroids are upfront, his approach unreserved. “I was trying to show survival, whatever that looks like,” he says. “The struggle and how I get by day-to-day; how I maintain my humanity.” The images offer glimpses into different elements of Wayne’s life: the accommodation in which he lives; the broken washing machine, and shared kitchen. His handwritten captions hint at an exasperation: “Don’t understand why people don’t clean up after?” reads one. “Why do it, what do you get?” reads another.

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021

Wayne grew up in London and has lived in the city his entire life. Having trained as a chef at Westminster College, he spent years working in private members clubs across central London. His aim was to work his way up. Soon enough he was offered a position managing a team. “It was my chance to shine,” he says. But it was short-lived. One evening, while at work, an incident occurred. “One of the chefs used the ‘N’ word constantly,” he says, “so I lost the plot.” That was the last time Wayne worked in a kitchen, or as a chef. “Everything went downhill from there,” he says. “Arguments with my partner. Not [being] able to pay the bills. Homelessness. And then spiralling to drugs.” And yet, “somewhere along the line, music and photography picked me up.”

Wayne’s love of music and photography stem from similar places. “I guess my interest in photography comes from not being able to communicate,” he says. “I use it to explain my situation.” Music is much the same: “I create lyrics to express how I feel about the world.” Wayne started taking photographs eight years ago. He grew up in a highrise estate in Brixton, South London, and would take photographs whenever he went to the countryside, “because it was a nicer view,” he says. “It was mostly to do with escapism.” Wayne’s relationship with photography has evolved as his situation has changed. “As I became homeless and had problems it was a way to escape myself,” he says. “When I take photographs, I think about something other than being homeless or wanting to use.” With the support of Cafe Art, a social enterprise that empowers artists experiencing homelessness in London, Wayne’s work began to get noticed. His photographs have since featured in exhibitions across the city. He also sells prints online. 

“Photography can have a real strength if done in a way that respects and is honest. It can really bring change”

– Inzajeano Latif

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Inzajeano Latif 2021

As for the CALM x 1854 Homeless Truths commission, Wayne took the project in his stride. “Lots of things were not going well for me at the time,” he says, “but it helped to take out a camera.” The project also has a wider significance. “Some of the pictures remind me that I need to ignite the fire within me to survive,” he says. Wayne’s mental health has been, and continues to be, a battle. “Mentally, I am in a very nervous and scared place right now,” he says. He used to receive the support of a counsellor once a week, but due to what Wayne suspects is a result of government cuts, this is now less frequent. “No day is ever easy,” he says. 

1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Wayne Chin 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Wayne Chin 2021
1854 x CALM: Homeless Truths © Wayne Chin 2021

It is important that the CALM x 1854 Homeless Truths commission is provocative and has lasting impact. “It’s about homelessness no longer being invisible,” says Latif. “We need to start conversations that lead somewhere and bring change.” Gunning agrees. When CALM set out on this project in collaboration with 1854, it was with the intention to amplify the voices of those who have themselves experienced homelessness, and in doing so, present a more authentic and less one-dimensional view. “Too often those experiencing homelessness are ignored,” he says. “They are made to feel like they are ‘other’ or people to be pitied. Their humanity is often taken away. By asking the participants to shoot how they feel and share the reality of their life with us, we wanted to turn this point of view around.” 

For Wayne, it is more simple: “I just want my images out there,” he says. “Being homeless and not having a family unit, or people to help you, can create depression and push people further away from society. Perhaps people might see this and recognise a friend experiencing something similar and reach out to them.”

The experiences of homelessness that have been shared in this project should make you think; compel you to want change. Latif is optimistic.  “I sincerely think that with the publishing of this project and the sincerity of the people I have worked with, it can have a different impact, in a way that politicians can’t have,” he says. “Photography can have a real strength if done in a way that respects and is honest. It can really bring change.” 

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. 

Explore the full project here: