I was asked to photograph the cover to the teen novel ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ by Alex Pearl to raise money for the homeless charity, Centrepoint.
The project got me thinking about the way we perceive homelessness. The stereotypical image of someone with a blanket wrapped around themselves while supping soup from a mug isn’t, I believe, very helpful or insightful.
In a world in which circumstances dictate the way we live, homelessness is something that can very suddenly affect anyone from any walk of life, religion, ethnicity and nationality. You can be living a normal life one moment and then be the victim of a violent relationship, economic recession, illness or crime, the next. Homelessness can and often is the result of such traumatic and unexpected bad fortune.
The more I thought about this, the more I felt it time that homeless charities conveyed this image to the public. So in collaboration with Alex (who’s a copywriter by trade), I set about storyboarding a commercial for Centrepoint that would break all the conventions and stereotypes associated with homelessness.
Fortunately, I knew a French make-up artist who was a very good friend of Sarah-Laure Estragnat (twitter @Sarah_Laure), the talented French actress who was available and keen to take part. She was perfect for the film because she doesn’t look like the clichéd homeless person and she isn’t even English.
I wanted the film to give us a glimpse into the distressing world of an attractive young woman running away from some awful situation that we can only imagine. As she runs we can hear her emotional thoughts in French. I wanted the whole thing to have a film noir look to create even more intrigue. And I wanted to challenge the viewer right up until the end-frame where our end line written in English spells out succinctly what the commercial is all about.
Hopefully, the commercial will make people think twice before they pre-judge the next homeless person they see on the street.