An Interview With: George Hill
Who are you and where did you study?
I'm a documentary photographer based in the North West and currently graduating with a degree in photography from Manchester School Of Art. My work focuses on documentary photography and is often inspired by current and social issues involving people and their stories. Throughout the year I have been photographing the homeless crisis in Manchester which has culminated in the documentary series “The Huge Issue”.
What is your artist statement for the body of work “The Hugh Issue“?
Manchester is a thriving city for economic growth, yet it is paved in a huge social issue. The city is abundant with luxury accommodation, but despite this there is a shocking shortage of social housing in Greater Manchester.
The series documents the environments in which homeless people are living in. It focuses on people's belongings, accommodation and the human traces that are left behind. The photographs capture moments of normality in in-humane circumstances. We walk through a city of tents everyday. In amongst the poverty, we discover hints of home comforts and elements of community on the streets.
What was the process of shooting this project and what problems did you face along the way?
There are various different reasons why people become homeless and it was important for me to think about this when approaching the project. I chose not to photograph portraits of the homeless due to the ethics involved and I didn't want my images to jeopardise their situations further. I also felt this had been done before and I wanted my images to show a view of homelessness we don't see every day. I focussed on items and belongings to document the situations homeless people are living in around the city.
I started by approaching homeless people on the street and chatting to them about their experience of being homeless. I explained why I was doing the project and got to know each person before photographing their situations. I would explore the city, discover where people were sleeping. I tried to immerse myself in their lives rather than photographing it from a far. I would eat and drink with them, and talk to them like I would do any other human being. There was no planning of shoots as each situation was changeable. Shooting was spur of the moment and intuitive as I couldn't guarantee that they would still be there the next day.
The colour palette you use for this project is very natural. What is the reason for this?
A lot of other photographs focusing on homelessness, have been edited in post production with a high contrast and often black and white edit to emphasis the gritty, shocking circumstances of homelessness. Perhaps this is an over edited view of homelessness that we have become immune to seeing in the media. In contrast to this, the natural colour palette in my images reflects the reality of ordinary people. The photographs are true to life, and I feel they do not need to be edited in order to shock the viewer. After all, my intention was to show it how it is.
Where do your main influences come from?
Primarily, I am inspired by humanity and stories of people. I do not over think my photography, but purely see it as a tool for documenting reality. The most influential photographer for this project is Martina Mullaney's series 'Turn In' which documents slept-in beds in Homeless Shelters across England and Wales. The absence of the person and square on composition is a similar style I use in my own work.
Where do you see your work going next?
The Homelessness issue in Manchester has not disappeared, so I will continue to document the things I see on the street. However, I also want to return to a previous project called ‘A Walk in the Park’ and create an ongoing series capturing the relationship between 'Dogs and Owners’. Potentially, this project will include portraits of rough sleepers and their dogs.
What is the best piece of advice you could give a student of photography?
Always have a camera with you. Use it as your journal. Be street-wise. Walk the streets with confidence but also be aware of your surroundings.
All images copyright of George Hill