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Moyra Peralta’s Portraits

June 14, 2024
by the gentle author

Next tickets for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS are available for Saturday 22nd June


Remembering photographer Moyra Peralta (1936-2024) who died on 8th May aged eighty-eight

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 © Estate of Moyra Peralta

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Moyra Peralta in Spitalfields

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    June 14, 2024

    She deserved an OBE

  2. Andy Strowman permalink
    June 14, 2024

    Would anyone or more than anyone like to help me so we get Moyra a post humous award like an OBE .
    I tried to fill it in but I need letters of support from others .
    I have her last address .
    Please consider helping me and if anyone who is technical wants to try and do it instead of me then I will be glad to help them .
    She is a deserving case .

    I can be contacted

  3. June 14, 2024

    We remember all these wonderful photos of Moyra Peralta. Now that the artist is no longer with us, they suddenly take on a whole new meaning. I look at them as if I’m viewing them for the very first time…

    On 14 June 2014, exactly ten years ago, I received her book “Nearly Invisible” from London, which she dedicated to me. Dear Moyra Peralta (1936-2024), thank you for your wonderful work. May you rest in peace.

    Love & Peace

  4. Patricia Cleveland-Peck permalink
    June 14, 2024

    I find these photos incredibly moving. They are a lasting legacy from Moyra

  5. June 14, 2024

    Wonderfully evocative photos, which bring out the humanity of people who have fallen all the way to the bottom. I will not forget Billy and his broken heart. I hope Moyra’s work will be curated and available for years to come. She has left a superb legacy.

    We need to do so much more about homelessness. Addiction, mental heath issues, domestic discord/violence and sheer bloody misfortune indivually and collectively conspire to create this situation. And still local authorites struggle to manage it. Street homelessness seems to be something to ‘clear away’ rather than solve.

    For some it’s an easy fix, for others it will be difficult but with more affordable housing and properly funded schemes we could do away with homelessness.

    Interesting too, that the street homeless are not the only homeless. Many more sofa surf or live temporarily with friends/relatives or exist in bed and breakfast accommodation – many families live like this.

    The photo of the woman in the flowery dress, allows for so many possible narratives of how she arrived at that point. All will be tragic.

    Everyone deserves a roof over their heads.

  6. June 14, 2024

    Very briefly. There will always be some who wish to wander and feel restricted any other way – like the circus wanderer here – but 99% of cases are not like this

  7. Cherub permalink
    June 15, 2024

    My late father grew up in Belfast. He used to tell me as a young man between the wars he saw a lot of homeless alcoholics, often men who had been very damaged by serving in The Great War. He taught me never to judge homeless people as they have their reasons for being in that unfortunate position. It’s one of the reasons I donate to the Salvation Army, both at home in Scotland and where I live in Switzerland, because they do a lot for the homeless and lonely. In my adopted city in Switzerland they also work with the young girls who stand on the street in the red light zone, by coaxing them away from prostitution and working with another organisation that helps get these young girls away from their pimps.

  8. Dave Howes permalink
    June 18, 2024

    It was really good to see a photo of Tiny. I used to help run the Crypt Folk Club at St Maritns In The Fields through the 1970s until the early 80s and he was usually there on a Sunday evening. My two young daughters developed a special relationship with ‘uncle Tiny’. The sight of Tiny playing hide and seek with two pre-school girls is something you don’t easily forget!
    A lovely gentle soul.

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