HOMELESS, NOT HOPELESS
This series introduces you to five men who are or have been homeless for a big part of their life. They all work for a project called PRAGULIC, a Prague-based social enterprise, which is taking on the city’s homeless as tour guides through the underside of the Czech capital. Each man has a story and through text and images I will share theirs with you. This series aims to interconnect the mainstream society and the socially excluded groups, to fight stereotypes of socially disadvantaged people and to inspire a public discussion on the issues of homelessness and social exclusion.
ENLARGE IMAGES FOR MORE INFORMATION
I spent some time researching the homeless in Prague. With the number of homeless having reached an estimated 30 thousand and another 100, 000 people at risk I thought it would be a relevant topic to explore for a project during my trip to the Czech Republic. During my research I came across a group called Pragulic. Pragulic is a Prague-based social enterprise, which is taking on the city’s homeless as tour guides, letting them guide tourist and locals around the underbelly of the city and sharing their stories. I found this such an interesting and intriguing idea. after reading a few articles about them I decided to make contact. Thankfully they were interested in talking further with me about working together to create my photographic project. To start we had to do a lot of planning and booking for the tours, each tour goes for approx 2 hours, and there is 9 guides. I really wanted to get a chance to meet them all and hear all their stories but time was going to be against me. After a lot of emails back and forth we settled on doing 5 tours. I was booked in to go on the tours with the guides takes photos and listen to their stories, then find a way to document each one for my project.
I have seen a lot of homeless series in the past and the majority of them encourage you to sympathize with them or feel sorry for the people who are in this situation. I on the other hand wanted to show them in a positive light. Show that even though these people are homeless they are also amazing people with important stories, they shouldn’t just be looked down at and ignored.
Once the planning was done we had deiced and organized the following:
* I was going to photograph and meet 5 guides – Pepa, Petr, Robert, Honza, and Karim
* Organized an English translator to accompany me for the tours.
* Plan and book times and dates.
Once all planning was complete, it was time to get the project started and head out to my first tour. The first tour I had booked was a special tour with guide Pepa. The special tour is longer then the normal tours and it includes teaching people how to survive on the streets. How to look for food, find shelter, beg, and shows you all the best places for begging and finding left over goodies. I met Pepa out the front of the Tram Stop Hradčany, Malá Strana. He began his tour by giving a brief outline of his life and how he became homeless. He then proceeded to take us to a local homeless shelter. Once we were there he explained all the rules that were in place for the people who wanted to stay there, and how things worked. He has stayed in shelters before but doesn’t enjoy it. We then walked to the Old Town, while he continued to explain his life on the streets and answer questions. Once we were in Old Town Square he continued to show you how to beg, find food, and approach people. While people from the tour were following his guidance and attempting to beg and find food, I got a better idea of how hard it could be to get decent food, and also how hard it would be out in the cold.
Pepa was such a lovely person during the tour, always willing to answer any question and share his story. It was a successful first shoot to start off, which gave me the confidence to continue with the project. Before the tour I was definitely nervous especially to meet a man who I was going to photograph who doesn't’t speak English. Luckily my translator Mikel was a really nice and friendly guy who helped me understand and communicate. This make the whole process less scary.
My second tour was with a man named Robert. He was a very happy man who loves to talk about trains. During his tour we took a train ride up to a place called, Praha Cibulka. Once we were there we walked though a national park which was quite large and very beautiful, as we walked Robert told us stories about and old Duke who lived on these grounds and a little bit about the history of Prague. He also told us stories about his life too. We also visited a large squatter colony, but we didn’t go inside. The sun set very fast during this tour so we spent a lot of time walking around the park in the dark which made it very hard to take photos. I have added a brief blub about Robert and added some photos from the tour
My third tour with with Karim. Karim’s story is darker then some, becoming homeless at a young age after leaving home, he turned to prostitution. Living on the streets for 25 years while not really being accepted by his mother for being gay made him a strong man. His eyes disappear sometimes into his Kiss-esque eye make-up, while he points out spots for “quick sex” and describes beatings from clients with intense detail (broken legs, noses). With his nails painted purple and his hands encrusted with rings, he explains his story and how he worked to get out of homelessness and how he is now involved in a lot of community projects to help share awareness of the homeless. Even though Karim may look intimidating and I’m sure at times he is, he is also a very kind and friendly man. When my friend and I were about to leave, he asked if were walking back to the hotel alone at this time of night, we said yes, confident we knew the way and that we were familiar by this point of the area. Karim then insisted that he walk with us just to make sure that we would be safe. He walked us all the way to our hotel entrance and then hugged us both goodbye.
My fourth tour was with Petr, who is an ex-Police Man who has been homeless for 10 years now due to a gambling addiction. He use to find shelter in the old trams and trains until the police found him and made him move, He then created his own shelter on top of the train station air conditioning systems. Petr sells the New Area magazine in the lobby of the metro station Vltara for income. The rest of his time is spent in theatre, which is his lifelong hobby or with his young daughter. He also works for a news station with other homeless people presenting the weather. He is a joyful person to be around and his happy to talk and share his experience from living on the street. During the tour he will take you to the homeless colony under the Hlávkûv bridge, the Divus art space, as well as showing you the other bank of the Vltava which is a place where the stories of many homeless people begin.
My last tour was with Honza, a 56 year old Homeless Man. Honza spends his time collecting Books from Bins and places to sell to second hand stores and antique stores for income. If you ask him why he is homeless he will answer with a grin, “A number of crazy women are to blame.” He spends his nights on different friends couches and sometimes inside an old buildings gallery space. During the tour Honza took us around Prague showing us some important statues and churches and explaining their significance. He also talked a lot about Prague poets, as poetry is one of his passions. Honza was actually the first person to write on the John Lennon Wall, which is now a major tourist attraction in Prague. He is a happy friendly man who smiled for most of the tour
Over all this experience was amazing. Meeting these men and hearing there stories and their views on Prague taught me so much about the city and more importantly about myself. I hope one day I will get the chance to go back and meet up with them all again and see where they are and how they are doing.
Too see more informaton about Pragulic visit their website