Hidden & Hunted: Ending Women’s Homelessness Exhibition at the Brighton Fringe

| Lauren Wallace-Thompson

A cardboard box full of bread and sanitary towels titled “Essentials”.

A low-angle shot of an industrial rubbish bin, the word “WASTE” emblazoned in white against a red background.

An empty child’s swing flying high in front of a sunrise with the caption “stolen motherhood”.

These are just some of the startling and evocative images that feature in the Hidden & Hunted exhibition, currently hosted at the Brighthelm Community Centre as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival and on display in an open air exhibition at Worthing seafront. The artists exhibiting their photography work are all women experiencing homelessness in the Sussex area.

An empty child's swing is silhouetted against a sunrise.
A photograph from the exhibition – an empty child’s swing representing stolen motherhood.

Earlier this year, Ideas Alliance teamed up with Turning Tides, Safe in Sussex and Brighton Women’s Centre, three organisations working to support women experiencing homelessness in Sussex. The organisations wanted to find a way to amplify the message about the work they were doing as part of the Ending Women’s Homelessness campaign. 

The idea of photography came up as a way for women experiencing homelessness to put across their own perspective about their lives and everyday experiences. Six women took part in the project. They were given disposable cameras and trained with local photographer Samantha Pharoah. The results of their creative work are now on display at the Fringe and at Worthing seafront, with plans to take the exhibition to other venues across Sussex to spread the message further.

The use of photography as a tool for expression has had multiple benefits. The cameras have given the women a creative tool to explore their thoughts and put across their ideas. As one woman stated: “taking photos about my journey has helped me to think about it and be proud of myself”. Turning the cameras on their surroundings, their circumstances and their challenges has helped give the participants another perspective on their own lives, one that, for this participant, has made her feel proud and positive about the outcomes. 

A photograph of a cardboard box full of baguettes with a pink box of pantyliners perched on top.
The photographer has titled this image – of a box of bread and pantyliners – “Essentials”.

The photographs are also a powerful visual tool for support workers. They can help them to share insight into the perspective of women experiencing homelessness with decision-makers and other services: particularly the way in which their situation is affected by their gender, and the ways to support them need to be gender-informed too. This is backed up by the quotes from support workers that accompany the images, one of which reads: “When we’re trying to identify women who are homeless, we often look in the wrong places. The expectation is someone sleeping on the streets, but for women that’s not how it works, more often than not. She’ll be sleeping somewhere, but there’ll be a high cost to that.” 

The photographs are part of a wider initiative to draw attention to the challenges faced by women experiencing homelessness. Attendance at support groups like those run by Turning Tides, Safe in Sussex and the Brighton Women’s Centre is a way for women to share their stories in a safe and understanding space. This enables the women, in the words of Janie Pamment, Women’s Support Navigator at Turning Tides, “to find the confidence not only to share their stories but feel empowered and proud of who they are”. Even though 25% of the people Turning Tides support are women, all too often support workers find that women’s own experience is diminished and ignored by services that are supposed to help them: “her own knowledge of how to be helped was completely dismissed and minimised,” says a poignant quotation from a support worker in the exhibition.

An image of a red industrial rubbish bin taken from a low-angle against a cloudy sky. The bin reads "Waste" and the picture is captioned "Used & abused"
The low-angle framing of this shot conveys the artist’s sense of powerlessness.

The photographs also offer benefit to the wider public, giving them a powerful display of art filled with dark humour, visual interest and narrative suggestion, which at the same time raises their awareness of the issue of female homelessness. The mundanity and everydayness of some of the imagery highlights the folly of thinking that it “couldn’t happen to me”. As Helen Sharp from Ideas Alliance, who coordinated the project says, one of the most important outcomes will be changing perceptions of the people who see the photos: “the women have created a unique, emotional display of work that captures the world from their perspective…Decision-makers need to see this.” Public reaction to the work has been emotional. “We’ve had lots of tears” says Helen, who thinks people are moved not only by the content of the photos, but by their quality. Photographer Samantha expresses her hope that “this exhibition will help these real lives to be seen and not ignored”.

As well as the exhibitions in Brighton, Worthing and one that was hosted in Littlehampton in May, the team are planning two further installations at sites in Horsham and Bognor, to ensure the women’s images are seen across the county. The collaborators on Hidden & Hunted have also been invited to speak at the Homeless Link conference on 29th June, where they will run a workshop featuring support workers Janie and Sam, and as many of the women as possible, who will discuss their work as the photographs are screened in the background. A further legacy of the success of the project is that Ideas Alliance are exploring how to use photography in different ways, such as with people with learning disabilities. “It’s another way of showcasing people’s experiences but also ensuring that they are in control of it and in control of their own story,” says Helen.

Hidden & Hunted will be at the Brighton Fringe Festival until 27th June. Tickets are free and can be prebooked here. You can also see the exhibition at Worthing seafront until the end of June. 

Or, if you’re from further afield, you can see the full gallery of photographs online on the project website.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this project and are in need of support, you can always contact for free:

  • The Samaritans by calling 116 123, or clicking here.
  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247 (24 hours per day, 7 days a week)

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