Kurai Hoshi Gallery

  Human Street Furniture
  Gerald O'Connell


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A series of portraits of familiar local characters from the streets of E17. These people form a
shifting backdrop to the life of Walthamstow, often ignored, but an essential aspect of the
fabric of the place. The work draws attention to the underlying humanity of these subjects,
reminding us that they are people with complex, often deeply troubled, personal histories.

The concept for Human Street Furniture arose early in 2011 when one of the subjects would 
appear regularly in the street outside my home, telling passers-by that he had not eaten for
several days and asking whether they they could spare any change. Over time I got to know him
and we struck up a friendly relationship. His appearance was quite striking and he was
delighted when I asked him if I could draw his portrait. As time went on I became increasingly
fascinated by his interaction with passers-by: those who ignored him, understandably, tended to
avoid eye contact; but this also applied to most of those who made a small donation - why
should that be? After observing this non-interaction for some time I concluded that many people
were using him as they might a special type of litter bin: as a receptacle for their bad
conscience; they weren't giving him money, so much as getting rid of a little bit of guilt over
the chasm of fortune that separated him from them.

Sensitised to this issue I began to see other instances of the same phenomenon, and I resolved to 
document it in a way that might challenge some preconceptions, principally by treating my subjects
with the same care, thought and attention to detail that might normally be associated with serious
portrait commissions - commissions attracting a price tag far beyond the reach of these individuals.

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