Who are St Petrock’s?
I recently conducted a lifestyle portrait shoot for a wonderful charity based in the heart of Exeter – St. Petrock’s. Their heart is to bring hope to people who are homeless or vulnerably housed and to help them rebuild their lives. For over 20 years, they have been committed to providing a range of support, housing and prevention services for those in need in the local area.
Image from Demolition Exeter
Meeting the team
The team at St. Petrock’s asked me to sit down with them to have a chat about what I could offer with my previous photography experience. Their aim was to provide a visual voice for their charity and for those they help through their services. The lifestyle portraits would be for publication in their 2018 financial report, online and in print. Much of my past professional work was more commercial, a rather different style to what they were looking for. But a particular personal project of mine was the initial motivation behind their request to meet with me.
Lifestyle portraits in Canada
Whilst on an underwater photography commission by Water Babies in Toronto, Canada, I stayed an extra day to soak up the city. Between 3am and 5am (the beauty of jetlag!), I wandered the streets in search of photographic opportunities. What I found were numerous homeless people, security guards and cleaners. Something that was very evident in the photos I took, was that these are intrinsic people to the city who are there when the masses aren’t.
Homeless man asking for change, Younge Street, Toronto – by Spencer Cobby Photography
So when I met with the team at St. Petrock’s, I showed them this mini project that reflected my journey down Younge Street, Toronto. You can see some of the images documented here. These were the type of images that St. Petrock’s were after. So this project actually afforded me to have the opportunity to work with the charity and I suppose, in a way, was proof that my heart was genuine to help and be a part of what they are doing.
We seemed to share similar values – a desire to humanise people, allowing ourselves and others to understand and relate to them. Instead of showing people in their most vulnerable moments or focusing on their past, my goal was to connect with them through conversation.
Photographing the individual
Many of those who access St Petrocks are often overlooked by others. If they are on the streets, some simply walk right past without even acknowledging them. They’re rarely asked how they really are and are often seen as ‘antisocial’. But when you get into one-on-one conversations and ask them deeper questions about themselves, they are often keen to share some of their story and make a connection.
I had the privilege of spending time with some of St Petrock’s service-users – photographing and talking with whoever was willing to share a bit of their story with me, often over a cup of tea or in the local area around St. Petrock’s. There were days when I would show-up and no one would be interested to talk or have photos taken. I never wanted to push or pressure people, just to share my heart behind why I was doing what I was doing.
I wanted them to know that I wasn’t there as a self-serving journalist or for my own gain, but rather, for them and the greater good of the charity. I wanted to capture how they were on that particular day, as normal people in a familiar environment, and as I said, give them a visual voice. When it came time to start photographing an individual, there was no physical break between us having a conversation and taking the photo. There was no interruption in our moment of connecting. For me, it was a more humanising approach in conducting the lifestyle photography shoot.
Thankfully, St. Petrock’s were happy with the results. The report has been published and I hope it encourages financial pledges for furthering St Petrock’s’ invaluable service to our city. The lifestyle portraits, I believe, communicate the heart and soul of this brilliant charity, giving a true representation of each individual and their story.
Everyone of us has a ‘front’, something we believe we should be showing the world. But the camera doesn’t lie in terms of what it recalls. In a fraction of a second, people’s faces, eyes, demeanour, body posture and confidence can subtly change. And suddenly you can get this moment in time truly seeing that person.
It’s an emotional thing when you ask someone for their story. And humbling when they open up and give it to you. I am so grateful to those who trusted me to share the story of their journey so far. They have no idea how much it meant to me – or the power of their words. Working with St Petrock’s has really impacted me. It’s opened up my eyes to be more insightful to what others around me are going through. Amidst the chaos of life, it’s inspired me to be more aware of the world and of others’ needs and wellbeing.
How you can help
St Petrock’s relies heavily on support from the local community. There are so many ways to get involved and help this charity serve the most vulnerable and isolated people in our city. If you feel inspired to help, either as an individual or with your workplace, school or church, please see below.