Self-taught photographer Lee Jeffries first began this series in 2008 when he was in London to run a marathon.
Using a long zoom lens, Jeffries tried to photograph a young homeless woman from across the street as she lay huddled in a sleeping bag in a doorway. However, she caught him taking pictures and complained. Instead of walking away, he approached the young woman and spoke to her. Jeffries tells BuzzFeed, "What that young girl taught me was respect ... that the photograph is not the be-all and end-all. I can still capture emotion but it's complicit and spiritual."
Since then, Jeffries has immersed himself in various homeless people's lives, seeing laughter, tears, and even death in order to get the right photograph.
When creating this series Jeffries aimed not to exploit his subjects, but to connect to them and photograph the sense of emotion he felt from them, to get an intimate portrait. Jeffries sought to engage with these homeless communities to gain the trust and confidence of his subjects, spending up to three weeks living alongside them.
"I’m very much project based," says Jeffries. "I go to an area, Overtown in Miami for example, and immerse myself in the community. I walk the streets, eat and sleep there for weeks at a time. I become part of that community. It's because of that I’m able to develop deep connections. I photograph from the inside out…not the outside in."
"I never ask for a photograph without spending time with them. I'm not there to take photographs. I'm getting something far more personal from the interaction if I'm honest. My own loneliness is somehow desanitised by theirs. It's hard to explain and probably even harder to comprehend...but it keeps me going out there. Once those connections are made, the moments I capture with the camera become spontaneous."
Asked what sort of things he has seen during this project, Jeffries tells BuzzFeed: "Everything and anything. Tears. Laughter. Loneliness. Death. The last time I was in Miami I was with a group of prostitutes in the Overtown area. They all looked out for each other but they were hopelessly addicted to heroin. One of the times I was there, one of the group ... had just been released from prison. I watched as she injected herself. A few hours later she was dead. I've seen a lot but I doubt I will ever get over that experience."
Using just his camera, a small handheld reflector, and natural light Jeffries wanders the streets looking for subjects. He tells BuzzFeed: "Loneliness, laid bare, is a very powerful stimulus. It’s never been about shooting a photograph though. The relationships I establish are self-fulfilling in many respects. My pain is somehow desensitised by understanding theirs. The recognition in a stranger's eyes is instantaneous and I truly believe I’m accepted the way I am because they see the same emotion in me." Jeffries never asks the people to pose a certain way.
Jeffries has worked with homeless people for seven years and supports charities that work with homeless communities.