English photographer strives to capture spirituality of the homeless
Catholic News Service
ROME — As far as English photographer Lee Jeffries knows, Pope Francis has never seen his pictures, yet he is sure they would be to his taste.
The pope is a "person of the people," Jeffries told Catholic News Service. "And these images represent the humanity in all of us. The feeling of Rome, the atmosphere of the city, carries through into the exhibition. For (Pope Francis) to see that, from a personal point of view, it would be right up his street."
Featured in the Museum of Rome in Trastevere until Jan. 12, Jeffries' exhibition, titled "Homeless," includes images of the poverty-stricken -- people the amateur sports photographer met while wandering the streets of major cities in Europe and the United States.
While in London in 2008, he photographed a teenage girl sleeping on the street. She woke up and began to yell at him. Attempting to placate his unwilling subject, the embarrassed Jeffries ended up conversing with her for more than an hour. That encounter sparked his interest in taking "intimate and soulful photographs" of others in her condition.
That same year, Jeffries traveled to Rome to purchase a rosary for a friend's mother suffering from cancer. This pilgrimage added a new religious dimension to his work.
"I looked at things and people differently," he said. "The spirituality of Rome carries through every image that I produce."
Showing the pictures in the city now thus feels like "coming home," he said.
An element common to Jeffries' work is a certain intensity in the subjects' eyes, which he says reflects their spirituality. He also uses light and shadow to convey what he calls a "metaphysical quality."
"People say Lee Jeffries photographs homelessness; I'm not particularly a documentary photographer in that sense," he said. "I'm photographing a person. I'm trying to capture a spiritual emotion that emanates from that person."
Jeffries says his motive is not to change the world, but he hopes his images have some social impact.
"My images are all about provoking a reaction, a spiritual reaction or a social reaction," he said. "If an image is provoking a reaction, the image is working."