ZAMEK Culture Centre

CZECHO-SLOVAK STORIES / Where is My Home (2013-2017) / exhibition of photography by Jindřich Štreit

With his most recent photographic project, Jindřich Štreit entered the complex, controversial world of the homeless, doing so as a human being and photographer. Our fellow citizens who live on the margins of society or—not infrequently—well beyond those, are the subject of numerous studies and scientific books, as well as addressees of various support programmes. At the same time, the group is surrounded by many persistent myths that are seldom questioned. Also, deep and perspicacious visual essays, which would consistently and comprehensively delve into the issue of homelessness in the Czech Republic are very few and far between.

Portrayal of the homeless and their social functioning is a very attractive theme for a photographer, but it proves highly problematic in the process. The photographer, often unconsciously, finds themselves in a situation of a tourist confronted with a strange culture, and has only a few hours to form their opinion about it. Jindřich Štreit’s long-term project entitled Where is My Home can make a radical difference here. The author became immersed in the world of the homeless, rejecting prejudice and embracing humility he had learned during his earlier social projects, which were concerned with e.g. the elderly, the disabled, persons with visual impairments and drug abusers. In his new series, Štreit does not attempt to analyze the causes behind homelessness. Instead, he delivers a powerful and poignant visual account from a world we would not dare to enter even in our thoughts. Most people living in the European cultural space espouse the certainty that the next day they will not have to leave the place where they have settled, that they will not be forced into a nomadic existence. In the world today, volatile and inconsistent as it is, notions such as home, settling in, or identity regain their original value and become an important issue for individuals and entire communities alike. Home, a haven for the body and mind, the stretch of a wall on which to hang a picture with a motif close to one’s heart, the bed, the table where one can put the book or a cup, are all a set of seemingly obvious things, an indispensable backdrop to a feeling of safety, a space where one can concentrate and indulge in mental and physical regeneration. Štreit’s photographs give rise to some nagging questions. How do the homeless substitute the basic human needs: the need for safety, love, dignity and recognition? What do they use to build the symbolic wall that ensures the sense of certainty and privacy? Is their homelessness a temporary state that does not preclude return or a finality? What do people deprived of home think about all day?

The austere, unstyled portraits of the homeless emanate an atmosphere of mutual trust and empathy. Someone who has not experienced anything of the kind will never be able to comprehend the daily life of a person without home. That daily life translates into endless hours from midnight until dawn, the wearisome moments before daybreak, suspended between darkness and light, stretching into unbearable seconds. A time of people left to themselves, who cannot cuddle into another, feel the calming touch of a hand; instead, they are aware that there is nothing to fall back on, even the glowing television screen that could help one last until the morning. Alcohol becomes merely a sticking plaster applied to a festering wound of being uprooted.

Paradoxically, most photographs of Štreit’s show individuality and a sense of one’s worth. The homeless carry their history and their current situation like a snail does its shell. The author portrays his protagonists with immense respect for their desire to live a life of dignity, as much as is possible. The photographs do not betray the past fates of those people, therefore we have no right to judge them. The striving of the homeless not to relinquish their humanity requires tremendous amounts of energy, courage and will. The author depicts them in a way which exposes the very core of their complex existence.

Homelessness, as a difficult and painful phenomenon of the contemporary society, has its tragic individual dimensions. The reasons behind the loss of one’s home are plenty, but in most cases it results from a sudden circumstance one never wished to find themselves in. The continually growing community of the homeless is not uniform in that respect, however, as some persons have deliberately chosen homelessness as a way to live. That particular form of homelessness does not originate with adverse financial situation, nor is it associated with age or education, but may be understood as an extreme longing for absolute freedom. In order to achieve it, one needs individual integrity, consistency of approach, and strength to handle that alternative lifestyle.

The homeless are arguably the only human community that has a chance to survive the collapse of our hedonistic civilization.

When looking at the photographs by Jindřich Štreit, we get to feel homelessness as a real and ominous social phenomenon, as well as an inner state at the same time. The individual causes resulting in homelessness are often incomprehensible for most of us. As we repeat the mantra of it being those persons’ own fault, we repress the unpleasant awareness that we also contribute to the injustices of this world.