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

  • Johnsmith

    Besides the fact that this is about is uncreative as you can get in a photo essay, these are heavily post-processed. I would liken it to airbrushing models to make them prettier, except this is “enhanced” to make them look grittier.


  • Charles Saulters

    In regards to being “uncreative” I’m sorry but exactly how many people do you know making a point to do a portrait series of the homeless? Also the post processing is part of his vision for the portraits.  Just because you don’t like the idea doesn’t make it uncreative.

  • Wiredwheel

    These could have been great if they weren’t so heavily processed. The first thing that I thought when I saw these was…wow, I wonder what software he used rather than…wow, what a great photo. Too bad.

  • Mantis

    The vast majority of the people who view these won’t even give a first thought to the software.  

    I think these are fantastic.

  • Igogosh

    These are great portraits! My first reaction was to study their faces then how they were lit. He could have been a bit easier on post, but it’s his personal vision and preference and takes nothing away from the main subject! Great work

  • Aus_Guy

    Sometimes I am ashamed to call myself a photographer. Photography is the only profession where people seem to think it’s fine to be down right rude and criticise peers work like there’s no tomorrow. If you don’t like the work, shut up and move on. Nobody asked for your opinion.

  • MrMagoo

    Great Pics and wonderful Faces. These people went through
    some hard times and you can see in their faces. Really gorgeous Portraits!!!

  • Through Painted Eyes

    I am a huge fan of both LJ and Benoit Paille. Both have fascinating views on how a face should be portrayed in both how the photo is captured, and how that photo is dealt with in PP. Both are inspirational.

  • Through Painted Eyes

    “Photography is the only profession…” I’d say it’s commonplace in any creative field, perhaps any field period.

  • Zefanya Hanata

    If I display my work, I want someone to criticize it. Some will take it positively or negatively, but nothing to be ashamed of really.

    If you don’t like criticism, simply don’t display your work, especially to flickr where you can comment in a sec. It’s that simple.

  • Polly_ballin01

    I took photos of homeless awhile back for a project of mine but not like that! Great work either way! 

  • Mia

    Well, you must be sheltered then…
    Only difference I see is that criticism in photography tends to be more on the internet and impersonal whereas other industries you will get told to your face that you are and idiot and the work is rubbish.

  • Mia

    I quite like the first one, its got a lot more impact to it than the rest.

  • mythbuster

    You are wrong. I don´t need shut up nor move on. I have the right of doing some criticism. In my opinion these pics are unnatural. You can do a lot of post processing and still have good pics (i.e. some days ago in this web awesome pics from Pep Ventosa), but Lee Jeffries´ work appears to be only extensive photoshop work.

  • mythbuster

    You are wrong. I don´t need shut up nor move on. I have the right of doing some criticism. In my opinion these pics are unnatural. You can do a lot of post processing and still have good pics (i.e. some days ago in this web awesome pics from Pep Ventosa), but Lee Jeffries´ work appears to be only extensive photoshop work.

  • Boleslaw Bierut

    eactly the point about your opinion just as well.;))

  • Karen

    Usually, I think portraits of homeless people are sort of, cliche. But I like these, all of them, but especially the first one. To me, the post processing seems to be in tune with of the journey of the subjects. There seems to be an intimacy that the photographer has with them as well. Great work.

  • Gereon

    If this would be a look-mom-no-hands-photoshop topic, it would be fine.
    As a homeless topic it totally misses the mark.
    Curves can enhance shadows. That’s news!
    But who woulda thunk that a little curve can virtually turn a hard reality into real crap?

    Want to tell a story about being homeless?
    Do it! It can be really worth it.
    But showing these people off like the Elephant Man just to demonstrate your Photoshop Kung-Fu isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

  • Bzz

    I dont really care bout post processing. All i care is about their story. emotion.

  • Mnor7373

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I find the photos interesting and all the more so because of the style they were processed in.
    Criticize till your heart is content, it’s the photographers choice to use whatever techniques he/she likes – photographic or PP.

  • Ali Johnston

    Great images. I think it is based on Draggans style.
    They are heavily processed. But they need to be to achieve the desired effect.
    The subject matter is quite cliched but then again how often do you see different subject matter. Check out the $2 project on Flickr. Lots of pictures of homeless people with some story attached.

  • Klrussell2

    This is one view of a photographers portrail of homelessness.It is raw, it is real,it belongs to him. He merely shared it.I myself love the post processing.It accentuates what he witnessed, and felt during his intimacy with these people.The grit makes it stand out. Which is the reason you all have commented.I say thank you for sharing.

  • eha1990

    I disagree with your comments.  Most people won’t be thinking about the software that the photographer used to post process the photographs.  And to be honest, no one truly know how much post processing the photographer did to the image to achieve the final version.  Your comments are from the perspective of a photographer which I understand, I’m a photographer too.  What photographer doesn’t take a photograph through Adobe Lightroom, or Adobe Photoshop CS5 before revealing the final version?  As a photographer, I strive for the perfect picture straight out of the camera, but I know that even if I did take a picture that I was satisfied with SOOC, I’d still want to take it through Adobe Camera RAW and CS5 because that is my workflow as a photographer.  Only another photographer could possible care about what I just said, because to a photographer, post processing matter.  The photographer achieved his goal, brought attention to a neglected segment of society, and created some very fine pieces of art.  I emphasis create because there is a very distinct difference between just taking a photograph and creating a piece of art.  I’d love to see a tutorial on how the photographer created these photographs, but that isn’t important to me. I respect the final product, and enjoy contemplating on how the photographer got his/her photographs to the final version. 

  • Loppi

    Ansel adams do post processing lol

  • Dan Foy

    I have to disagree with your disagreement.  Although they are (subjectively) aesthetically pleasing to look at, it is wrong to call the images ‘honest’, as the author of this post has.  They are interesting images, but ‘honest’ isn’t something I’d call them.  Reality isn’t in black and white, it isn’t high contrast, and in reality most people don’t look like they have cataracts.

    This isn’t a representation of homeless people – it’s a representation of how people think homeless people should be represented… the techniques used in this image are so commonly used on images of the homeless that they’re almost a cliché.  On top of that, the style in which they have been taken and processed represents the homeless universally as gritty, vulnerable, and ‘other’ – this isn’t the case at all for all homeless people, and it’s lazy to photograph all homeless people in the same way regardless of their circumstances.  It’s objectifying for one thing, it turns the subject into an otherworldly spectacle.

    Don’t get me wrong, they’re nice enough images in their own right, and I’m sure Jeffries had no shady motives… he possibly even did this to bring attention to this segment of society, as you suggested – although, looking at the lack of any context or background stories further than a location on his Flickr set, I’d suggest that he’s probably doing this more for personal gain than for the cause of his subjects.  It’s just that, as photographers, it’s very important that we consider the way that we are representing the people that we photograph.  Being a photographer is about more than ‘making aesthetic images’.

    Maybe these are things that only photographers worry about.  That doesn’t matter though, because as photographers, it’s *our* place to worry about these things and give critical feedback on each others work.

  • Jason Heilig

    I’ve seen it in various classes in San Francisco about 5 times. Nothing would get the head of the photography department calling you out as a hack like taking photos of homeless people.

    Not only is it uncreative, it’s exploitative. 

    And the thing that makes it uncreative, is the fact that it’s uncreative. It lacks creativity. It has nothing to do with not liking it.

  • MarcinB

    I wonder if the author would dare to show these pix to his models – especially the last three. I do like the works as such, but not the context – to do it on homeless after ostensibly befriending them is a betrayal of their trust, IMHO.

  • @GabrielGornell

    Homeless.  Not homeless.  Paid actors.  Heavily photoshop’d, Or all “in-camera” …I only care that the end result was quite engaging, emotional, and felt as if there were 1,000 stories behind each image.  Those who use these platforms to bolster their own position by knocking down the artist are missing the point.

  • sidceaser

    These images are very reminiscent of Bill Jay’s Homeless portraits:

    Here is a funny article from 2006:

    “There are probably enough homeless pictures from Photo 101 classes in
    major cities everywhere to last the human race forever,” said Jay Bill.
    Added B.C. Coleman, “It’s gone so far beyond cliché that it’s sunken
    into mannerism and from there transformed into invisibility.”

    Great read.

  • Killermotion

    all pictures are post processed morons. all pictures are just representations of the subject. accuracy to light, or not, no picture comes close to the reality.
    to all the people who insult this photographer:
    shame on all the people who manage to insult this photographer. post your work and I will extend you the same courtesy. 

  • Killermotion

    …….the same could be said trees, birds, mountains, kids, cars, buildings and probably anything you point your camera at. the point of photography is what makes you smile, because most likely, few others will.

  • Killermotion

    your pictures probably suck, but if they make you smile, then go after it. your comments are rubbish.

  • santi

    get over it !! the point is not art !! its the thought of someone one you might know living on the streets !!

  • Anonymous

    Out right deny though that these are not more haunting than most ‘homeless’ people shots? I agree it has been done to death and isn’t the most creative thing though.

  • Dave

    Look! More images that are pounded to death with hdr over processing! How unique! It’s been minutes since I was last subjected to images so cooked to death! Yay! Creativity with the click of a mouse!

    I am all for the digital darkroom but to all of you crying about “all pictures are post processed morons.” There is a big difference between post processing and OVER processing. The most creative thing this photographer did was to PURCHASE Topaz. *yawn*

  • Nortnarg

    News Flash. Most homeless people look like, well people. Normal people of all shapes sizes and culture. Not all look like bums and hobos.

  • Ago

    Wonderful portraits, I believe it’s a wonderful way to show that man is a man, and not something on the side of the street!

  • trudi

    illuminating the human condition. i see that both in the photographs and the comments. any of you post your photos?

  • Budwardo

    Guess Ansel Adams never did any post processing, like using different developers, changing development times, dodging, burning etc. Give me a break!

  • Janet Johnson

    Some really nice photos.

  • Bumblebee

    None of you truly know this photographer at all, so i think it is rude that some of you  bash on him accusing him of over doing it on the photoshop and his subject matter. I have seen many photos done that are very much like this with wide angle lenses that are shot with this kind of detail before the shot was put into photoshop.if the photographer knows what he is doing and does it properly you can acheive this look. I have done it many a time. And besides maybe he did do alot of post production the point is that he was trying to acheive a look that he felt best told the story of these people and I honestly believe that. And so what if many people have done homeless people and that its over done many, many things have been shot numerous times over and over again, and we still pay attention to them in interest. I feel an intimcy between the photographer and the subject and I can see the hardship and the pain in some of these peoples faces and it makes me think of them and wanting to help them, making me want to know the rest of their story and I think that is the true message with these photographs. I feel that these are stunning shots and congrats to the photographer.

    If most of you claim to be here to comenting because your “criticing” then maybe learn to be professional and do it in a respectful manner then insulting the photographer when you don’t even know them.

  • mythbuster

    In a very respectful manner: I don´t need to know who is the photographer to know I deeply disagree your opinion. You say: ” I feel an intimacy between the photographer and the subject”, but I only can see a “comic like” manipulation. These pics don´t belong to the real world and so can´t inspire real feelings.

  • Jason Kim

    just want to let you guys know that not everyone is a photographer that’s out at others throats… at least the guy took some time to edit the photos to make them look good instead of just tossing them online and saying “look at ‘em”. If you think your comments make you sound like pros, they don’t. They just make you seem like big douchebags. if you have nothing nice to say then keep your dirty stinking mouths shut.

  • Bumblebee

    well then in a respectful I feel bad that you cant see or try to see actual meaning in photos, or go and try to get behind the image to understand it other then just looking at the photo. If you try to understand the relationship between the photographer and the subject then there can be a deeper appreciation for the art. I don’t think that you have a right to claim that these do not belong in the real world because to this photographer and  to many others these images inspire them and tell a story. Thats like saying that any piece of art that you don’t like or have an appreciation for shouldn’t be allowed in the real world. Just because you don’t like the look of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in real life or doesn’t inspire anyone. You don’t speak for others an frankly as a photographer I find that statement offensive and insulting if it was said about my work.

    Like I said before if people are going to “critique”  then be professional and don’t be insulting.

  • Bumblebee

    THANK YOU!! :)

  • mythbuster

    I am not insulting anyone. Just expresing my opinion. If you don´t like criticism don´t show your work. Saying such rude things as “dirty stinking  mouths”  just because you can´t sell your vulgar pictures is insulting.

  • Krondor

    “the guy took some time to edit the photos to make them look good”

    No, the guy took the time to make them look like zombies. And your rudeness does not make you any more convincing, you know.

  • Dan Foy

    You misunderstand what is meant by ‘not of the real world’.  It doesn’t mean that the photograph doesn’t deserve to exist – it means that the image doesn’t represent reality.  That isn’t always a bad thing, but there are obvious ethical issues around misrepresenting vulnerable people in order to create what you have described as ‘stunning shots’.  No-one in the real world looks like this – it’s a lazy stereotyping of the homeless.  I’m not saying they aren’t arresting images – just that they don’t do anything other than further the stereotype.

    You say that you think these photographs make you want to learn more about the subjects, and that they tell a story.  They do not tell a story, at least not one that is remotely connected to reality.  If the photographer had wanted you to learn more about the subjects then he would have included contextualised information alongside the original photos on Flickr.  There is no story alongside those photographs… in fact when scrolling through them I don’t think I even saw a name, the most I saw was where the subject was ‘found’.  There isn’t any contextual information inside the images either, as the majority are straight headshots.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible images in the set (more on his Flickr set then the ones chosen to be featured here), but when we ‘critique’ images we are providing a critical response, not just looking to praise or correct people on technical skill alone and then gloss over anything else.  Photography is about more than technique, and critique is about more than being positive.

  • Blackresque_f5

    I think, these pictures are both inspiring and amazing. If you think, that you can achieve the same effects in the darkroom, go ahead and try it out and post your results. These images are harsh, gritty, detailed and that’s what the photographer wants you to see, which is the reality of the homeless.

  • unsilent majority

    Let’s just say this has been done to death . . . and that there are issues with post, etc, . . . the photography may also be savvy to this info, right!? If the photographer has the will to take such photos, is it not worthwhile? It’s like evrybody with a negative opinion has the universe open to such realities about this project except the photographer that went out there and made it all happen on his own time. And if anybiody wants to rant about post processing, then PLEASE go to flickr and you will find MUCH overprocessed HDR images made to look like pastel painings from such aspiring “photographers du jour.”