THE HOMELESS HUNTER

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 It took bicycles and World War I mementos for LEE JEFFRIES to pick up a camera. Lorna Dockerill asks why last month s WOW! photographer preys on homeless people for his sinister but powerful portraits "Everybody wants something for nothing." The words of 40-year-old Bolton born accountant turned amateur photographer, marred by hundreds of forlorn expressions from the homeless. The unfortunate lives of those sleeping rough have been his subject of choice since he attempted a candid shot of a girl huddled in her sleeping bag while in a London doorway to run a marathon during 2008. His first taste of street portraits turned sour when the irate female was angered by Leenon-permission based approach with his 5D and a 70-200mm lens. Once bitten, Lee was determined not to be twice as shy, but twice as confident.

STOLEN EMOTION

"Ilearnt it takes a lot of balls to be in a position like that and approach people.

I need a subject to give a picture emotion and it is reality and moments which present themselves that I like to shoot. Istolen emotion while talking to these homeless people who are not having a good time.

I recognise a sadness, a loneliness which isndirected in any way. Maybe itmy own loneliness reflected in them," Lee admits. Though only a connoisseur of documentary photography for five years, his disturbing black and white images of gaunt cheeks, crumpled skin and desperate windows to the soul, pulled heart strings at The Independent, The Guardian and Time magazine. The latter offered him photojournalist status when they threw a self-financed Miami assignment his way. On the trip he formed a relationship with a tragic drug dependent shredded by her addiction —a relationship he was never to forget.

"My favourite picture is of a 29-year-old girl named Latoria, taken while I was in Florida," Lee says. "I think itbecause I took more risk and it has this sort of power. Inot seen anyone like her. I talked to her every day and she appreciated the time I spent with her, but she was so hooked on crack cocaine that any money she had she took to a guy around the corner and I knew thatwhy she was homeless. So I bought her food and drink instead." Leemagnetic portfolio entices even the most apathetic viewers, but Latoriastruggle written on her pained ebony face as she lights her desire packs a punch —right in the stomach of any rehab centre. Ittesting work to view, but how does he capture these fleeting moments in bedraggled alleyways with minimal kit and harsh daylight?

THE TECHNIQUE-PATIENCE

"In the daytime I try to underexpose in camera and then dodge back the light working on the shadows, midtones and highlights in post processing for atmosphere," Lee says. "Ilearnt how it alters local contrast and that it can be a powerful way of expressing your own vision. But dodging and burning is something you canteach because itabout trial and error, and people forget that all the greats did it in the darkroom. But I guess now people look for an instantaneous preset for editing but there isnone." The Bolton wanderer stresses that many amateurs dontake the time to learn Photoshop properly either. "No one has ever taught me anything. I took a week off work and worked through it myself —there is no quick fix. No one did anything great by being lazy."

In the few seconds Lee has to photograph his subjects, he tries to position them where few distractions exist —perhaps in front of a dark wall, or a flat background to isolate them. He doesnuse flash. However, lighting was proving a problem when the photographer strived for a glimmer in the eyes of a man with deep-set features. "I would use f/2 to focus on the eyes and have everything a little softer, but I was missing the light in the subjects’eyes because

I underexposed. So I started to hold a small white Lastolite handheld reflector under their chin or chest area while I was talking to them, so I could escape the flat light, illuminate the personface and retain detail. With one guyeye sockets I couldncatch any light in his eyes so I used a reflector while he looked up," he tells. The flat light Lee refers to is when the sunglare falls vertically with no direction. He also began using a 24mm lens instead of a 85mm for more character. "I had to stand further back with the 85mm and the portraits werenas pronounced. I want to be right in on the subject and I can get in on their eyes."

Even though Lee converts his pictures to black and white, he wonpush his ISO beyond 100. "I tried it but the noise created completely destroyed it. If you try to bring back the detail it just doesnwork. I bought a Nikon D3 for that reason but I sold it to fund my expedition to L.A (where he photographed last monthWOW! image).

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AN UNLIKELY OBSESSION

Jeffries hasnalways summoned fame and glory from the media. His voyage into photography began when he invested in a Canon 400D to shoot product shots for his now defunct business selling high-end cycling products. His intrigue into interesting characters however, began at school. "I didnalways recognise the influence, but I remember looking at WWI pictures when I was 14 during history lessons at school.

I noticed soldiers with bright white eyes that had this spirit in them even though they were dead. I didnsee those images in colour, but I think I subconsciously tried to recreate that emotion I felt. I guess thatmy analysis."

After observing the homeless in Rome, Los Angeles, Paris and New York, itpuzzling that the camera buff hasnspent more time building relationships with British homeless people. "The homeless in Britain are harder to shoot," he defends. "You could walk for days and not see a homeless person. My inspiration is wider than here and I like to go where photojournalists go. I guess I would love to be a photojournalist but there is no money in street portraits. But I dondo it for that." Ironically, despite his day job, money proves a frivolity for Lee, unless hefundraising for worthy causes. He has photographed former football star Ian Wright while at a national charity golf club challenge for Help for Heroes organised by his brother, and raised cash for Centrepoint to support homeless people in London. Next on the cards is a workshop to enable those on the streets to learn how to take their own pictures which Lee is hoping to arrange —as well as a trip to visit Latoria again. He finishes: "Icurrently trying to raise funds and save up to go back to the US and I hope Isee Latoria again."

LEE S WOW! IMAGE

"I recognised something in this guyeyes immediately.

He said very little, just staring at me. I asked him if he needed any food or transport and didnuse a reflector in this picture. I shot this outside the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Santa Monica and wanted to get rid of the background.

The shadow exaggerates the emotion and I pushed the light back carefully via dodging. It was taken on Skid Row, a renowned capital of the homeless in America." Canon 5D, 85mm, f/2, 1/400sec, ISO 100.

BIOGRAPHY

Lee Jeffries is a 40-year-old accountant and award-winning amateur photographer based in Manchester. Hooked on gritty portraiture, he travels the globe to photograph homeless culture and has been featured in The Guardian, The Independent and Time magazine.

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