A powerful exhibition from photographer Lewis Phillips has taken a rarely seen look at life behind the facade of one of London’s busiest and well known streets!
The Strand links Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street and is one of the wealthiest parts of the City. Not everyone living there though is able to share in that wealth and there is an undeniable underbelly of people who live in plain sight yet who are often invisible from view.
These are the homeless, the people who live on the Strand who find themselves struggling to survive from day to day. Their stories are often heartbreaking, full of trauma, difficult circumstances and the fact that they have lived their lives amongst the most challenging of backdrops with many suffering from Mental Health problems.
For Lewis Phillips, it was a visit to the nearby National Portrait Gallery which inspired him to find out more about the life of this famous street. “I had just viewed the photography awards and was totally inspired, me and my fiancé was talking about ideas when we came across a guy laying in a sleeping bag adjacent to the gallery. His expression was one of emptiness, the bustle of the world was just passing by him without notice. I had to talk to the man, I had no idea why but I wanted to know his story.”
That first story told to Lewis by a man called Ken was how the project started. “His story was astonishing” said Lewis “we spent 20 minutes with him, he had been in the army and was from North Yorkshire so I asked if I could meet up again with the possibility of maybe having his image taken, he agreed.”
And that was how the project started. “I met many more people along the Strand over the year, I suppose I just wanted to show people how diverse the Strand was.” The project was born and evolved from there with one of the main themes developing being that of the challenges around mental health for those living on the streets.
As a person who has himself suffered from mental health issues in the past Lewis found an immediate affinity with the people he spoke to. “The mental health issues were very apparent” he says. “The stories gave the reasons why people suffered with mental health… I could understand their feelings, thoughts, actions.”
The exhibition represents a first for Phillips in that it is his first major solo show. The venue is no co-incidence either, the gallery space in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields is well considered. This church sits at the entrance to the Strand, it has royal connections and a proud history but it also provides respite for the homeless who live around it.
“We could live on the pavement, we could have a very high paid job, but people still suffer with mental health whether they have money or not. The images from the exhibition are mine” says Lewis, “the stories are theirs and they just wanted to be heard.”
‘About a Strand’ the exhibition from Lewis Phillips ifs free and runs from 20th July until 8th August at the exhibition space in St. Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square. Money raised from the exhibition will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation and those wishing to donate can do so here.
Selected images from ‘About a Strand’
For more articles featuring work from photographer Lewis Phillips have a look at the following: