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Moyra Peralta’s Street Portraits

July 24, 2013
by the gentle author

Sylvia in Tenterground, Spitalfields

Since I published it last week, this compelling photograph has been haunting me with its tender emotional resonance. Sylvia’s once-smart shoes and flowery dress tell us about the life she wished to lead – and maybe about the life she had led – yet it is apparent from Moyra Peralta‘s affectionate portrait that the life Sylvia aspired to was lost to her forever. Unwillingly to enter a night shelter, she slept rough in Spitalfields in the seventies and today this photograph exists as the only lasting evidence that, in spite of her straitened circumstance, Sylvia kept her self-respect.

Following my recent gallery of Moyra Peralta’s Spitalfields pictures, today I publish this selection of her London portraits. Through the seventies and until the end of the nineties, Moyra Peralta befriended people living on the street in the capital, visiting them several times each week. “I miss that world terribly,” she admitted to me, looking back on it, “my relationships were more social than photographic, but in the process of those relationships I took portraits – there are those here that I knew over thirty years, most of these people I knew for well over twenty to thirty years.”

“Definitions of the homeless lost all meaning for me.” Moyra emphasised, “As a photographer, I tried to show the human face, rather than the problem of homelessness itself because those termed ‘homeless’ are not an alien grouping – they are people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom have met with crippling misfortunes.”

Moyra’s intimate photographs succeed as portraits of heroic individuals, evoking the human dignity of those marginalised by society. “To me, those I have photographed are an important part of our social history.” Moyra asserted to me, “I want my photographs to rescue people from oblivion and celebrate their lives lived in a climate of disregard.”

John T in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Bert known as ‘Birdman’ slept outdoors since the age of fourteen. He had an affinity with the black swans and sparrows in St James’ Park and was treated with tolerance by the Park Police.

Two men sitting in a cellar.

Maxie on the steps of the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch.

Maxie pours Stan a drink at Marble Arch.

Eddie and Brian tell tall stories on Kinsgway

Brian raps on the church door, Kingsway

Man and a cat in a Cyrenian short stay hostel, 1974.

Grant and pal laughing at the Bullring, South Bank

Mary reads the Big Issue in Holborn

Tommy M in Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Bill H, Cyrenian House, Barons Court, in the seventies.

Brian D at Middlesex Hospital, 1997

Brian’s begging hand.

Francis at Cable St

JW and Jim at Pratt St, Camden

John T, Storyteller, Whetstone 1995.

John T, the valentine.

Kerry’s Christmas Tree, Kingsway 1994.

Drag artistes from the Vauxhall Tavern give a surprise performance to entertain guests at a night shelter, 1974

Drag artistes improvise costumes at the Vauxhall shelter.

Billy and Maxie, two ex-servicemen at Marble Arch, 1976.  Billy (left) died of a broken heart the year after Maxie’s death

Billy at Marble Arch in the seventies.

Sid takes tea at Ashmore Rd short stay hostel in West London.

Resident washing dishes at West London Mission, St Luke’s House – part of former Old Lambeth Workhouse, 1974.

Tiny, ex-circus hand and born wanderer extends a greeting at the Vauxhall Night Shelter, 1974.


Man and his bottle in Central London, seventies

Disabled Showman Zy with his wheels.

Zy plays a trick with his teeth

Brian the Poet in Kingsway, 1994.

Photographs copyright © Moyra Peralta

Signed copies of ‘NEARLY INVISIBLE,’ including these photographs and more by Moyra Peralta plus writing by John Berger & Alan Bennett, are available directly from Moyra. Email to get your copy.

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Moyra Peralta in Spitalfields

15 Responses leave one →
  1. July 24, 2013

    Not invisible any more. Thank you Moyra Peralta for this series of moving and intimate portraits

  2. Vicky permalink
    July 24, 2013

    These are stunning, Moyra. So tender. What characters these people are, the human spirit shining through, and how sad life took this turn for them. When I see people in such straitened circumstances I wonder about the children and young adults they once were.

  3. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    July 24, 2013

    What can be said…….. these photos are magnificent? Mary reading The Big Issue brings a smile for me, when I see the happiness on her face.
    But, for the grace of God, go I…………..

  4. July 24, 2013

    Have been brooding on a small upset over the last few days. Seeing these pictures reminds me how bloody lucky I am in my life compared to these poor souls – I needed that reminder. God help them.

  5. Adrianne LeMan permalink
    July 24, 2013

    I love my daily dose of “Spitalfields Life”, thank you; today’s picture and caption of the ex-servicemen is particularly heartrending. I do a great deal of (pro bono) work for a wonderful homelessness charity, The Passage, based near Victoria Station. Sad to say, even today many homeless men are ex-servicemen – clearly no-one helps them adapt to civilian life after many years spent in the forces and, now, the government’s cuts to benefits make it even harder for them to survive.

  6. Teresa Stokes permalink
    July 24, 2013

    I remember Mary well, always in that same spot at the northern end of Kingsway, I think it was an abandoned church. I worked in an office a few doors away in the 1980s, but didn’t know her name until today. I wonder if she is still around as I don’t think she was very old.

  7. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    July 24, 2013

    Brilliant portraits, so moving.

  8. July 24, 2013

    Stunning pictures, when we were visiting my London family (Dalston) in the seventies, at some point we would always pass by a Meths Man or group gathered round a fire.

    Sleeping rough, and downing the hard stuff, seemed to be an older persons game back then. Even in the eighties as a photography student – taking shots around Charing Cross Road and St Martins – rough-sleepers, bag ladies and winos seemed to be at least sixty.

    I’d love to know the stories of how they came to be where they were

  9. July 24, 2013

    A marvellous set of photographs showing great respect for the subjects. I remember photographing Sylvia in Liverpool street in the 1980’s; she had a beautiful face.

  10. Paul Kelly permalink
    July 25, 2013

    Haunting and touching.

  11. July 25, 2013

    I passed this link on to my friend John Healy, author of The Grass Arena, and he replied with the following:

    “I don’t know anyone in the photos- they were a little after my time but they were still not called homeless even then they were termed dossers and winos the more benign term homeless was extended to them about the 80s I think. Thanks for letting me see though.

    Ex Wino emeritas!”

  12. Tamara permalink
    July 31, 2013

    Love! Humanism at its best. Thank you for sharing

  13. August 12, 2013

    i love these! Bill H, looks like the nicest man! I would lvoe to know his story!

  14. August 13, 2013

    For Rebecca. As you so rightly identify, Rebecca, this page is not about photography per se, but rather about the human condition. Bill H. was a case in point… homelessness can happen to anyone. I have lost count of the men I have met on the street – and in hostels – who were neither habitual ‘dossers nor winos’, but ordinary middle-aged citizens evicted from their council homes (at the time) by Councils callously terminating the tenancy following the death of a parent with whom they lived. Bill was indeed a lovely and lovable man. So perceptive of you to ‘read’ the face. He was an ‘extra’ in the film ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’!

  15. annmarie hendrie (granger) permalink
    November 25, 2013

    hi i was one of these people that lived in the bullring and i remember grant zy and thats tam and shaun or yorkie as i knew him and martin zy lost his legs through a failed suicide attempt on a train track would love to see more pictures of the bullring if you have any

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