Photographer captures harsh life sleeping rough in Capital

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A HARD-HITTING photography exhibition is turning the lens on life on the streets in a partnership between city businesses and homeless prevention charity, Cyrenians.

The exhibition focuses on the work of photographer Patrick Keast from Livingston who picked up his first camera during recovery from alcohol addiction when he was referred to the Cyrenians addiction recovery service in Bathgate.

Patrick, 49, found solace in photography during the early days of his recovery in 2014. He said: “It was a distraction at first. I picked up the camera just to pass the time.”

But soon he noticed that he had a natural aptitude for capturing images. He said: “When I started reviewing the pictures I saw that they had a message to them. They said something about my recovery and spoke to me about my condition.”

The haunting black and white images that are being displayed in St Andrew Square convey the harsh reality of life on the Capital’s streets.

A homeless man slumps into his dog as pedestrians walk by; a man in a wheelchair casts his gaze downwards as he is watched on Princes Street; an unseen person is swaddled in blankets against the wall of Fleshmarket Close – the central figures in the pictures are not alone but the portrayal of isolation is jarring.

For Patrick drinking was an ongoing issue throughout his life. He said: “It went from liking a drink to not being able to go without. It dogged me for a long time.”

The loss of his job and home brought about his most recent recovery. He said: “It’s really about try, try, try again.”

Having a creative outlet has been instrumental in Patrick’s sobriety and photography has been freeing for him. He said: “I’m accessing a part of my brain I haven’t used for a long time. It quietens down the static in my head from everyday life.”

Cyrenians, now in its 50th year, and Essential Edinburgh, Edinburgh’s central business improvement district, have joined forces in a five-year partnership to expand the charity’s resources and their outreach services which will provide vital support for 
people sleeping rough and help people move towards safer options.

Cyrenians Chief Executive Ewan Aitken said, “The exhibition has been made possible as a result of our partnership with Essential Edinburgh. By partnering with us for five years we will be able to expand our resources to directly help those currently experiencing a street based lifestyle in central Edinburgh. This additional support means we will be able to continue growing our holistic approach to tackling homelessness and its root causes.”

He added: “Patrick’s photos show the devastating reality of rough sleeping and highlights the vital nature of the services we provide.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh said, “Our businesses have left us in no doubt that tackling rough sleeping and begging in the city centre is a key priority. We are delighted to be in partnership with Cyrenians’ which was established to address the visible problem of rough sleeping in Edinburgh.”