CNN Photos

Haunting portraits of the homeless

Amateur photographer Lee Jeffries was in London four years ago to run the annual marathon. While walking around Leicester Square the day before the race, he snapped a photo of a homeless girl across the street.

She noticed him taking her picture and yelled at him for being intrusive.

“I could have just left and walked away, but I actually went and talked to her and heard her story,” Jeffries says. She was an 18-year-old drug addict and both of her parents had died. “That changed my focus on photography, and that’s where it all started.”

Since then, he has captured intimate portraits of dozens of homeless people around Europe and the United States. What started as a hobby for the Manchester-based accountant has turned into a “personal crusade.”

“Obviously I don’t photograph every homeless person I see,” Jeffries says. “I have to recognize something in the subject. I can’t explain it. It’s something I feel  an emotion they’re giving me.”

He tries to emphasize that feeling in the post-processing, using light and shadow to create what he calls a “religious” mood. He says at times he has been moved to tears while editing the images, thinking back on the people he will likely never see again.

Jeffries typically spends about an hour with each person but once spent three days with a homeless man on Skid Row in Los Angeles. He says he watched helplessly as the man injected himself with heroin after taking a hit of crack.

“The most difficult thing is hearing the stories about these people,” Jeffries says. “I may have brightened their life for an hour or two, but it’s knowing that I can’t go back and change their lives that’s hard to take.”

Jeffries was recently named Digital Camera Photographer of the Year, and a book of his work will be published in the coming months by YellowKorner, a Paris-based art gallery.

Following the 2008 encounter in London, he almost always approaches his subjects and talks with them before shooting any pictures. Afterward, he offers to buy them a meal or gives them a little cash.

“You’d be amazed by what you get back from a person if you just stop and say hello,” he says.

- Brett Roegiers, CNN