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Moyra Peralta’s Portraits

January 21, 2022
by the gentle author

Sylvia in Tenterground, Spitalfields

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.

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

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    January 21, 2022

    This is all so, so sad. 1970s doesn’t seem that long ago, but it HAS been 40 years.

  2. Chips permalink
    January 21, 2022

    very poignant. if not all then I’d like to think many of these people were loved as children. it is heartbreaking to think how their lives turned out so differently to what they and their families would have dreamt of.

  3. Andy permalink
    January 21, 2022

    I like to remember these people too. I grew up with them in Whitechapel. If anybody wants to contact me re my poems about them including the Gentle Suthor please do.
    My e mail address is

  4. January 21, 2022

    Poignant and thought provoking photographs.
    Some smiles still evident despite the circumstances they found themselves in.
    I am wondering if Moyra sent John T the Valentine card……if so, what a lovely thing to do.

  5. January 21, 2022

    Received Moyra’s book NEARLY INVISIBLE in 2014 with an inscription. Grandiose pictures!

    Love & Peace

  6. January 21, 2022

    Such powerful images. I remember helping to drag a mattress out of a homeless shelter in Plymouth 1973 – as a man had died on it the previous night, his tabacco tin under the pillow. This photographs takes me right back.
    I was 15 and in care of the local authority at that time. We also helped patients (pushing their wheelchairs into the cinema on a Saturday) at a large hospital – I think it was called Moorhaven – it’ll be luxury flats now…

  7. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 21, 2022

    Truly wonderful photographs, even though they make me feel really sad. There is still too wide a gap between the haves and the have nots.

  8. Mary permalink
    January 21, 2022

    These are some of the most compelling portraits I have seen. Moyra’s connection with these people allows their dignity and humanity to shine through. Some of these images remind me of Dorothea Lange’s work on the USA “dust bowl” migrants, “Migrant Mother” being probably the best known.
    Moyra’s work needs to be more widely recognised.

  9. Paul loften permalink
    January 21, 2022

    I took a step outside early this morning and an icy blast chilled me to the bone. Fortunately I had a way back inside. How easy it is for any one of us to take a wrong step in life and end up in a dark place with no way back.

  10. January 21, 2022

    I echo what Mary said. These people could be my friends, my family members… myself, if things were to go horribly wrong.

    It is so difficult to truly ‘see’ homelessness, perhaps because it frightens us. Moyra’s portraits introduce us to people who live this way, and reveal that they are no different from us. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but homelessness puts them on display. I honour the courage of these men and women.

  11. Georgina Briody permalink
    January 21, 2022

    In my ‘old life,’ I travelled the length of Kingsway over the years working at different points of that long highway eg Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Queen Square and Russell Square and, out walking or from the bus going home, I remember seeing Mary sitting outside that church with all her bags or, looking out of my office window, seeing the ‘characters’ frequenting Lincoln’s Inn. I wonder what happened to them all.

    These pictures have certainly brought back poignant memories of that time.

  12. Cherub permalink
    January 21, 2022

    Whilst these portraits show sadness and loneliness, they also show friendship which is priceless.

  13. Sue permalink
    January 21, 2022

    Incredibly touching and loving photographs of people who had slipped through the net.

  14. January 21, 2022


    many smiles among them.
    only one woman though — Sylvia — and no smile, there.

  15. Andy Strowman permalink
    January 24, 2022

    I would like to further add that Chris Searle the teacher valued people and did allpw children to write their poems about the area.

    See “Stepney Words.”.

    Best wishes,

    Andy Strowman

  16. Zaza permalink
    June 25, 2023

    I lived at Waterloo for some time in the late 80s and remember the homeless abounding then . Specifically a ginger bearded dwarf, another black bearded man who I once saw having DTs, and a young woman with fake freckles painted over her face , clown like , wandering aimlessly around London carting plastic bags around.
    They exerted a strange fascination over me and inspired me to incorporate them into some of my stories.
    Who were they ? What happened to them all?

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