Haunting Portraits of the Homeless

Photographer Lee Jeffries worked as a sports photographer before having a chance encounter one day with a young homeless girl on a London street. After stealthily photographing the girl huddled in her sleeping bag, Jeffries decided to approach and talk with her rather than disappear with the photograph. That day changed his perception about the homeless, and he then decided to make them the subject of his photography. Jeffries makes portraits of homeless people he meets in Europe and in the US, and makes it a point to get to know them before asking to create the portraits. His photographs are gritty, honest, and haunting.

You can see more of his work in this Flickr set.

(via Beautiful/Decay)

Image credits: Photographs by Lee Jeffries and used with permission

  • Blackwidow

    Well you are OLD so you are set in your ways. If you can’t accept how the new generation does things, it’s not our problem. You and your old ways are going out of the drain anyways so no problem. :D

  • Blackwidow

    Could be used as a poster for a horror movie or something. 

  • Bumblebee

    In response to Dan Foy

    The point of photography is to attempt to tell a story without the photographer having to write it all out for you. A photograph is left up to interpretation. Thats why its called “VISUAL ART”. If you need the photographer to spell it out for you then your not attempting to look deeper into the photograph. And honestly I dont see how this is as you called it a “lazy interpretation of the homeless” . If it was lazy then it would be nothing but a snapshot that has had absolutely nothing done to it and just thrown onto the internet with no thought behind it what so ever. I think that is far more insulting to these people then going up to them and taking the time to photograph them, maybe get to know them, to attempt to bring attention to these people. And even if the photographer did use alot of post production thats just his way of drawing in more attention to make one think more about their images. And I never said that you dont have to be critical in critiquing photos and glossing them over you misunderstand. I was talking about how there are some people on here that are making a bigger deal on the fact it was over processed or not rather then looking at the image and the subject matter and just insulting the photographer.

  • richie

    I think people have the right to enjoy or criticize image if you’re willing to post it online, but if you are going to criticize these images then explain what would you have done differently….lets be honest some of you guys are acting like morons, if you can give it out prepared to take it too. 
    Imo these images are great portraits, and it in the eye of the photographer how he sees these images and how he express his style is up to him.

  • Jason Kim

    I just got called “rude” by people who are tossing crap at other people’s work… i don’t think these comments are going anywhere… id like to see some pictures by some of you guys. if you guys are so very confident of your photography id like to see what you’re capable of.

  • Grant McKinlay

    The first image of the girl is great! Would hang that on my wall! A0 size or bigger.

  • Anonymous

    i don’t know two craps about photography, yet to me it was pretty obvious these are very much ‘worked on’ with a computer. the glossy eyes and the ‘realistic’ skin they all share makes it pretty obvious – and the fact that they all share these characteristics stresses that they are not realistic.

    somebody said earlier that these are exploitative. i completely agree. talking to homeless people “changed his perception of them”? well duh, what does he want, a bloody high-five for getting past his privilege for like five minutes, and bowing to talk to those who have been left behind by modern society? that’s not deep, it’s clueless. if you are genuinely interested in them, and in what brought them to the streets, show the oppression and the hunger and the cold their suffer, and how everyone ignores them, and how the state blames the homeless for their own misfortune. give the homeless a voice to fight back. that would be deep.

    these portraits are vaguely interesting because we’ve been told these are ‘real’ homeless people, and that’s about it.

  • mythbuster

    I also want some very big ones for my wall and some friends´ homes and relatives too… so lovely!


    WOW, I have a love of photography, and the images above are
    just that, images that strike emotion.  And as for the photoshop
    techniques, who gives a crap, no one had a problem with Ansel Adams and his
    darkroom.  These images are pure art, and maybe not to everyone’s liking,
    but still art. 

    I have been following Lee since the early days of flickr, and to see him posted
    here today here was a great feeling to see a photographer get international
    attention that he deserved.  Nobody thinks about the endless hours of
    trolling the streets, communicating with people that are not the easiest to
    speak with, and the YES the endless nights processing these images to spark
    emotion in the viewer.

    For those of you interested in Lee, you can now follow him on 500px at

  • Jason Banks

    I believe a photographer seeks to spark emotion, feeling from their work.  Regardless whether that be positive, or negative, to move someone to take a moment and make comment proves they hit the mark.  You love it, you hate it, you took the time to talk about it and that, to me, is a success.

  • Steingrimur Arnason

    Really nice portraits. Good thing is that they make you think about the subject and why it is homeless and such. I really like the high contrast B&W processing and I find that it suits the subject. Difficult lives, hard times etc.  Many of his other photo are also superb.

  • Givensfamily

    I volunteer with the homeless, and your pictures make them ugly.  They are attractive people who are in need of a bath, haircut and shave.  I do not think the
    homeless would approve of your degrading photos.

  • B E. L

    Post-processing here has been used to convey the meaning in the photographs and the context of homelessness. I think it’s unfair to liken it to marketing-style post-processing, where they aim to sell a product. This is art, it has been obviously been processed, but that’s to enhance the mood and emotive-connection with the viewer – to me, these are basic principles of photography and art. As for it being “uncreative” these are harrowing portraits and while, yes maybe, the subject has been photographed before, it is like saying there should be only one street photographer, fashion photographer, wedding photographer, etc. Im sure Van Gogh wasn’t the first to paint sunflowers, but his sunflowers are the most famous sunflower paintings of all time. Utilising a subject that’s been used before does not make it uncreative, it is how the subject is utilised that makes it creative.   

  • Anne

    I’ve seen the over-processed homeless portraits about a million and a half times, I can’t believe you haven’t.. except he has the common courtesy to strike up conversations rather than go off on some photo-tourism “street photography” hunt. so props to him,

  • Dugcoinc

    Michael Zhang doing more left wing bullshit! Oh and by the way where are the black people. Haunting my ass, this is so trite as to be beneath contempt!

  • Sam Wallace

    Did anyone else look at these images and just reflect on the fact there are countless homeless people in the U.S? I like this post as it reminds us of how fortunate we are just to have internet to view this post, and we need to help our fellow Americans who don’t have as much. Arguing the paint off the wall on creativity and post-processing is just a selfish attitude towards the big picture. 

  • Gereon

    I don’t see homeless here at all.I see wrinkles, lots of them, bad hair and a running nose.

    I don’t mind that the images were processed at all, but I do mind that they were shopped for the wrong reasons. (besides the fact that this seems to be some kind of precious trademark work anyway)
    They emphasize everything that makes you stay away as far as possible from these people, when you see them in the streets.
    Because they look ugly, have bad clothes and a bad smell.
    If there would be a correction layer for odor in PS he would checked that one too.
    If that was intentional, thats OK, but as said, not my cup of tea.

    Being homeless usually means a lot more than just bad breath, pale eyes and drunk nights under yesterdays papers. I don’t even see an attempt to tell a story about all this. Above is just a freak show conditioned in the photographers very personal handwriting.

    Like I already said: As a demonstration of editing skills this is fine.
    As anything else not so much.

  • Tundek

    I spent a little time homeless. In my younger days, I voluntarily made myself homeless, hitchhiking from Va to Ca and staying on the streets up and down the West Coast for a few months. Every day and night was an adventure, sometimes incandescent and frightening because of the characters you would meet. It takes courage and pluck and a kind of demented faith in other humans to remain homeless, voluntarily. To do it against your will, out of necessity, at an age when you should be remembering the good times is unimaginably hard. A society that allows this to happen to their old and sick against their will is unspeakably cruel.Pictures are a reminder of what we are. Whether they are cliche or post processed or polaroids doesn’t diminish the fact that we let homeless people become homeless. Meanwhile, Citi Bank continues to kick people out of their homes, in many cases, illegally.

  • Casino Nelson

    Yeah in my college photography 1 class the only rule my professor gave us was not to take photos of the homeless due to the fact that he had seen it a million times over.

    This is why this work is getting so much flack.  Seen it so many times.  I think technically is good.  But too much post for my taste.

  • Wachberg

    “the thing that makes in uncreative, is the fact that it’s uncreative.” what a sentence.

  • fantom

    I think these photos reawaken us to the fact that there are homeless people, we see them every day, (well I do). I also know that a lot of homeless people choose this way of life although the young girl wouldn’t have made that choice, if I was the photographer I would have had to seek some kind of help for her other than just talking to her. She only looks about 10 years old and it is quite unusual for her to be homeless – is she alone or is she homeless with her family? It is quite disturbing to think of a child being homeless. The photos are interesting and even though there has been a lot of so called post processing it does not make it better or worse – the fact is the photographer’s aim is to show  a part of our society that most people don’t want to know about. This is what photography is about, it is to make us aware. Not everyone has seen this before even though some of the comments say that this idea  has been done before and it is old hat. I for one will not forget this little girl’s portrait.

  • mythbuster

    It´s a girl? Not a boy? Difficult to tell indeed. I do prefer that beautiful portrait of the running nose man … so lovely and respectful with the homeless people! I want a A0 size copy for my baby´s room!


    You cant be told to not to take a photo of a certain topic, or scene!  In this case a beautiful sunset would be considered boring and “been there done that”.  Thats something that has been shot a million times


    Dan, thanks for linking to your web page.  with that link your stand by your own images and show the group that you actually have an understanding of photograpghy.  Most of the people that are being critical of Lee’s work dont leave a link to their own work.  I guess they just come to a photography web page like Peta pexal to bash other peoples work and inturn make themselves feel better about their own images.

  • Marzoni

    Let me know what is creative in art nowadays. There is nothing, absolutely nothing new, everything is a copy of a copy. Art has reached the top when people think a poop hanging from a wire in a gallery is art.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t saying these people directly reflect homelessness. For all we know, they may not even be homeless. However, the idea that these could be brings the bigger picture to light. 

    In regards to creativity, the bar has been set incredibly high, now more than ever. Today’s post on PetaPixel, the PressPausePlay documentary explains it very well. We are here to critique or are we here to be heard? This photo community, it is whether you accept it or not, needs to be really define their purpose on here rather than just criticize b/c it doesn’t make their day. That is not what a true photographer should do for others. Not directing this right to you, just making a point.

    It’s just plain selfish to think every project, photo, and idea needs to please everyone in order to be creative or art. You need to realize that this project wasn’t put together just for you, if it’s not your thing, fine. Leave it alone, so we have don’t have to filter through the crap to find real feedback. 

  • Scott Gibboney

    Care make an impact on this suffering ?

  • Dan Foy

    I agree with what you’re saying about people who are commenting on here purely to bash the photographer for his use of post-processing, or that are outright insulting the photographer.  It isn’t the photographer’s use of post-processing that I personally have an issue with.  I also agree that strong images are often able to ‘tell a story’, as you put it, without contextualising information – and that this is often what makes them strong images in the first place.

    I challenge you to ‘look deeper’ into these photographs, though, and see what you can actually determine about the subjects, because I for one can’t see what you mean about the photographs ‘drawing attention to the subjects’ in any way other than parading the subjects as a spectacle.

    Firstly, they are in black and white.  There is nothing wrong with that, there is a strong tradition of black and white portraiture – but since the invention of colour emulsions, black and white tends to be used for aestheticising subjects rather than depicting them ‘honestly’.  No-one is black and white in reality.

    Secondly, there is the lighting.  They are naturally lit, which I admire.  It’s technically difficult to create such striking images using only natural light, some shade, and a reflector, which would appear to be what the photographer in this case has done.  However, natural light has been used in such a way that it emphasises certain features: namely, almost unnaturally deep wrinkles, the unkempt nature of a beard, the gauntness of eyes.  How often do you see a homeless person and remark how gaunt their eyes are, or how aged they appear?  And if/when you do, what opinion does that actually give you of homeless people?  Is it a positive one?  Regardless, even when the homeless do have these ‘features’, they are never anywhere near as striking as here.

    Thirdly, we have the subjects as they are depicted in themselves.  They are only headshots, not placing the subjects within any particular context, inviting us to judge them on the appearances of their faces alone.  What does this tell us about the subjects?  Do you really think that, for instance, the subject is going to appreciate being depicted with snot running down his face, regardless of how much effort the photographer had made to befriend him?  Or that any of the subjects appreciate being depicted as people who emerge out of the darkness with terrifying eyes and faces so large that they fill up your entire vision?

    As I have said, I don’t think that these are ‘bad’ photos, either aesthetically or technically.  I would enjoy viewing them as large prints.  But they *are* exploitative, and they *are* dishonest.  I wouldn’t have taken the time to post this reply at all had I not been so insulted that you suppose I lack the ability to read a photograph.

  • Captain Pasty

    Yes. You are right, it’s in every profession. Ever tried doing a scientific research paper? Your peers will rip it to shreds any chance they get :)

  • Matt

    My favorite posts so far are from the guys who like to tell us there are ‘problems in post’ with these pictures.

    I’m always amazed such professional superstars have the time to post and argue in the comments section.

    To all of you like me, amateur photogs interested in new and interesting stuff, here’s a hint…the guys talking about ‘problems in post’ and railing for truth in photography are either failed pros or 14 year old kids.  

    Don’t get trolled.

  • Dave

    Or maybe they are photographers that are sick of the over-processed look amateur photogs are getting by using one of the Topaz or Photomatrix programs and flooding the market with. If photography is now in the digital domain, there is still going to be a range of people that tastefully treat their pictures and others that pound the shit out of them with software and get results like the mess above. It is like the difference between fine art and cartoons. One day far in the future you will get it.

  • Gayle

    Let me guess, you are saying why don’t they just get a job?  No right wing citizen would ever take these pictures

  • Anthony Paulino

    I agree with you! To call someone elses work uncreative is very narrow minded. Everyone has an art for that is creative in its own right, no matter what medium they choose to present it :)

  • Magus

    Great pix. Sorry you posted something to share and got beat with a stick. Cheers.

  • yomama12

    Simply put, I think these are amazing  Over-processed.. maybe but, they still get their point across, especially the first one of the little girl.  I’d love to be able to print like this, using black and white film combined with some alternative processing, to reach the same result, as this artist did, with, as you say, computer software.  You have to give it to him.  He was a SPORTS photographer.. and to jump to something like this, I think, is a pretty good stretch.  Though you say the homeless subject has been overdone, as a person who is not used to critiquing professional portraits like this, … as a layman.. I find the subject matter both pertinent and a bit disturbing.  It certainly evokes emotion… and, for me, that’s what a good photograph should do.  Screw the techinicalities…  It’s what draws my own idividual eye, that matters… and these certainly drew my eye…  So, just applaud the guy, for going there… and for what he’s done.  Stop with all the picky bullshit.. and move on.  You don’t like it, don’t look…

  • Luke_holmes8

    Completely disagree with people saying this is uncreative. Yes, photographing homeless people is a ridiculous cliche, but a lot of photography is about breaking the rules and not taking photos of homeless people seems to have become a rule. Photography is about capturing or evoking emotion and this series does both. Win/Win situation here; photographer has a great series and people who think they know what they’re talking about get to feel good about bashing a “cliched” project.

  • meg

    Photography is about taking a photo as a base image, to then edit, and further explore ideas with. Photography is art. In art their are many different media’s. For painting you can use, water colours. Oil paints or pastals. Paint etc … So why cant you use various forms of media to enhance your photograph. Seriously. your comment was “rubbish” 

    these photo’s are gorgeous. You clearly have no idea about photography. 

  • jewels6075

    are you all so caught up in yourselves that you can ignore the subjects? that is what is wrong with humanity.