Assembly and Frequently Asked Questions: Socially engaged photographic practice with people experiencing homelessness

Assembly and Frequently Asked Questions: Socially engaged photographic practice with people experiencing homelessness

Project Lead

Anthony Luvera

Funders

  • Brighton Photo Fringe
  • National Lottery (the Big Lottery Fund)

Partners

Assembly commissioned by Brighton Photo Fringe in partnership with Brighton Housing Trust, First Base Day Centre, the Phase One Project and Cascade Creative Recovery. Sponsored by Photocrowd; Colourstream, Brighton and BPF print partner Metro Imaging. Funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund and Brighton Photo Fringe.

Frequently Asked Questions was commissioned alongside Assembly by Brighton Photo Fringe. Subsequent development of the project has been supported by the Museum of Homelessness.

Duration of project

2013-ongoing

Project overview

For over 15 years Anthony Luvera has created long-term projects with homeless people in cities and towns across the UK, including London, Colchester, Belfast, and Brighton. Undertaking this work has led to a collection of tens of thousands of photographs, sound recordings, and ephemera related to the participants experiences and the process of the artist’s practice.

Assembly was created in Brighton between 2013 and 2014, and first exhibited at Brighton Photo Fringe in October 2014. As part of Assembly, Luvera volunteered at the Brighton Housing Trust homeless support service, First Base Day Centre, working in the kitchens and in the activity rooms over the course of a year.

He then invited individuals to use single-use cameras to create photographs and digital sound recorders to capture their experiences. Luvera met with the participants regularly to discuss their images and sounds, and to record conversations. He also invited participants to learn how to use medium-format digital camera equipment, over repeated sessions, in order to create a self-portrait for the ongoing series Assisted Self-Portraits.

Alongside these activities he collaborated with The Cascade Chorus, a choir of people in recovery, through group singing, performance and sound recordings. Assembly consists of over 70 images including Assisted Self-Portraits, documentation, and photographs created by participants, as well as a 45-minute soundscape featuring excerpts from sound recordings created by participants, The Cascade Chorus, and the process of the creation of this work.

Seeking a way to present research about support and services available to homeless people, Luvera struck-up a collaboration with a participant, Gerald Mclaverty. This involved sending email correspondence to council representatives in cities and towns across the UK, written from Gerald’s experience of homelessness, requesting information about services provided in each locality. Frequently Asked Questions is centred around policy, legislation and services, at both local and national levels which relate to homelessness.

The questions included:

Where can I go for something to eat or drink?
Where can I find shelter when it is raining or snowing?
Where can I go to the toilet during the day?
Where can I go to the toilet during the night?
Where can I get a bath or shower?
Where can I get clothes, footwear, and a blanket?
Where can I wash my clothes?
Where can I sleep during the night that is safe?
Where can I go to use a computer?
Where can I go to use a telephone?
Where can I go to see a doctor?
Where can I go to see a dentist?
Where can I access facilities for my pet dog (food, bags for waste, vetcare)?‚Äč

Originally, FAQ was displayed as an installation alongside Assembly, this element invites the audience to contemplate correspondence with council representatives of forty cities and towns across the UK, and the range of responses and information provided.

Both bodies of work have been shown together and separately since 2014. FAQ has continued to develop with two further rounds of email enqirues having been sent out, resulting in further exhibitions (Tate Liverpool 2018; People’s Republic of Stokes Croft 2019; The Gallery at Foyles, curated by Futurecity in 2020) and a presentation of the research findings at the houses of Parliament in June 2019. 

Project objectives

Through Assembly, Luvera reveals the ethical issues at the heart of the documentary tradition of photography, the imbalance of power between photographer and subject and the tendency to objectify the ‘other’.

His practice regularly involves collaborating with marginalised members of the community, facilitating the use of equipment and developing skills so that they can photograph themselves and document their own lives – rather than be directed by himself.

Luvera’s work here is also concerned with questions around participant agency, including:

  • what motivates a participant,
  • how they experience taking part,
  • what they might expect to gain,
  • whether they are able to achieve this,
  • and how their views are mediated or represented.

Further to this, Frequently Asked Questions invites audiences to contemplate the information and range of responses provided by the local authorities. It provides a picture of how services both help and hinder people, and gives insight into the challenges and realities faced by the most marginalised individuals in society as they attempt to access systems of care.

At the heart of this body of work, is a number of questions that enquire about a homeless individual’s right to access to basic living provisions such as shelter, personal safety, health, food, and communication. It also seeks to engage and collaborate with people who have experienced homelessness, enabling individuals to represent themselves.

Frequently Asked Questions is more than a display of data at an exhibition or in a publication. It is an invitation to take part in a conversation. In each presentation, space has been made to ask the audience, ‘What Are Your Questions?’ to enable viewers to directly contributed to future research by providing responses and suggestions that can be folded into the life of the project, bringing to the fore more questions that need to be asked. In each gallery and public space audiences actively contributed to activities ranging from public discussions, workshops, reflective spaces, and creative responses. These events were staged in collaboration with artists, activists, campaigners, organisations and experts working across disciplines to shake up preconceptions, lobby for change, and prompt people to think differently, including IC Visual Lab, The Bristol Cable, Liverpool Salon, and the Museum of Homelessness’s Dying Homeless Project.

Impact statement

This socially-engaged photographic practice research undertaken by Anthony Luvera has had impact on: 

  • Public understading of the experience of homelessness;
  • The lives of specific individuals who have engaged in the practice, in terms of self-image, education and life opportunities; 
  • Influencing / changing the approach taken to commission, curating and exhibition of work relating to homelessness by key organisations
  • As well as impacting upon public understanding, the work has impacted on representation of key social issues, and influencing policy.

Dissemination

  • Frequently Asked Questions, (exhibition)
  • Taking Place, The Gallery at Foyles in Foyles Bookshop, curated by Futurecity, Charing Cross Road, London, from 13 January – 15 February 2020 (Featuring both Assembly and FAQ).
  • Frequently Asked Questions, The People's Republic of Stokes Croft, Bristol, from 25 November – 12 December 2019.
  • Frequently Asked Questions, Houses of Parliament, London, June 2019.
  • Frequently Asked Questions, State of the Nation curated by Museum of Homelessness, Tate Liverpool, 22 – 28 January 2018.
  • Frequently Asked Questions, State of the Nation curated by Museum of Homelessness, Tate Modern, 8 – 10 April 2017.
  • Assembly, Brighton Photo Fringe, Phoenix Brighton, 4 – 26 October 2014 (Featuring both Assembly and FAQ).
  • Frequently Asked Questions (research publication) published 27th Februrary 2020.

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Coventry University No.1 Modern University No.1 Modern University in the Midlands
Coventry University awarded TEF GOLD Teaching Excellence Framework
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2020
Coventry City of Culture 2021