Photographer Series – 1 Nigel Whitbread

For this new in-depth series, we speak to the photographers that have covered the annual Homeless World Cup. We look at some of their work, their highlights from the events, and find out more about what inspires and drives them.

In the first of this new series, we speak to Welsh photographer Nigel Whitbread, whose exhibition of work from last year’s Homeless World Cup has toured around Wales in recent months, and is now available as a photobook in print, and as a free digital download.

Can you tell us a bit about this exhibition? What gave you the idea for it?

The exhibition aims to reflect at its core and represent a cross-section of homeless people in South Wales and how they are all, despite their differences, trying to overcome the isolation they can feel from the rest of society and how preparing for and taking part in the Homeless World Cup gave them a sense of empowerment that they are part of something that is bigger than themselves.

This was one of the very first photos I took of the parade leaving the Principality Stadium to go through the streets of Cardiff. With the Welsh flag flying high above a sea of people in a party mood, being led by the sounds of Samba music, it really gives you a sense of time, place and atmosphere.

The title of the exhibition “Dragons Warriors – Dreidiau Rhyfelwyr” is taken from Welsh actor Michael Sheen’s passionate speech in the opening ceremony. He said: “Our men’s and women’s teams are known as the Dragons and the Warriors. But you are all warriors. And now warriors become dragons. I urge you this week to spread your dragon wings wide. To take off into our Welsh skies, and proudly, to fly. Dragons and warriors all. Welcome to Wales.

The idea of putting on an exhibition, something that I had never even dreamed of, came from the fact that after being granted press credentials to attend the event I had no real contacts to get the images seen on the wider stage. I approached various galleries, museums and even cafe’s with display areas to gauge interest in the idea of an exhibition and received quite a lot of positive feedback.

This photo is of the Romanian womens team entering the pitch and seating areas as the parade comes to an end to make way for the opening ceremony. I took the photo because it just shows so clearly what it means to the people involved to be at such an amazing event.

When I heard from Cynon Valley Museum that they wanted to host an exhibition in their Mezzanine Gallery I was over the moon, and on top of that when Claire Doore from D&S Frames in Barry donated over 100 frames it really spurred me on to start a crowdfunder campaign to raise funds for the exhibition and charities associated with the Homeless World Cup.

The exhibition so far has been In Dean’s Cafe, Cardiff Airport; St Peter’s Church, Dinas Powys; Foxy’s Deli, Penarth; St Catherine’s Church, Pontypridd; and was due to be held at Cynon Valley Museum, Aberdare during April but has been postponed because of the lockdown restrictions. This is why I created a Virtual Gallery here, a photobook to go side by side with the exhibition, available in print and as a free digital download here, and why Cynon Valley Museum created their Exhibition at Home webpage to highlight work that would have been on show if it wasn’t for lockdown restrictions. You can view that here.

What were you looking to capture? What were you looking to convey?

When I got to Cardiff on the first day of the Homeless World Cup and started taking photos of the parade leaving from the Principality Stadium I instantly knew I wanted my images to show that this event was a celebration that brought so much happiness to all the people involved.

Michael Sheen being such a presence as he welcomes everyone to Wales, promotes inclusion and encourages them to fly like dragons. This I feel encapsulates the feeling of his speech by utilising landscape portraiture to be inclusive of it’s surroundings.

I hope that visitors seeing the images will cease to think of the stereotypical guy/girl on the street in doorways asking for money, but see that there are many different ways that people are classed as homeless, different stories behind the individuals and to understand that there are ways people can change their circumstances for the better.

Was the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff what you thought it would be? What were your highlights?

The HWC in Cardiff was a much bigger event than I had expected, I think Cardiff really got on board with it and made it a stand out event of the summer.

This is a photo of the men’s Welsh team lined up just before the start of their first match which was also the first match of the tournament. Emotions are running high and the tension during the build up is almost too much to bear for some who are not used to being the centre of attention.

My personal highlights include, as you might have guessed; Michael Sheen’s powerful speech at the opening ceremony welcoming the world to the capital of Wales and thanking everyone for hearing our song, both opening Welsh matches – men’s and women’s for the strong performance in the men’s close loss against Denmark, and the powerful performance in the women’s definitive win against Northern Ireland, and the joy on all the players faces – be it in the crowds or on the pitch.

How did you first get into photography? Tell us a bit about your journey to this point.

I first got into photography whilst in my twenties travelling around the Middle East but didn’t focus on it as more than a hobby until I started studying for my degree in Design for Interactive Media at UWIC. In 2018 I also studied documentary photography under renowned Polish photographer Michal Iwanowski (“Go Home Polish“) at Ffotogallery in Cardiff.

In the past I’ve taken on commissions as small as taking passport photos for people, family portraits and as large as wedding photography but my passion for the media comes from setting my own challenges that I have complete control over, and doesn’t involve external influences like clients expectations clouding the creative expression.

What, or who, were your inspirations?

My influences range from photographers trying to hold a candle up to issues that have inspired them like John Conn “Signs of the Homeless”; Kevin Carter – Pulitzer prize winner; and Eddie Adams – Pulitzer prize winner; to artists who use a variety of mediums like Dave McKean – an English illustrator, photographer and comic book artist; and even Banksy for his socio-political aspirations and his ability to get his work noticed and issues talked about.

This is a photo of the women’s Welsh team in a group huddle, celebrating after winning the opening women’s game 7-1. I took this photo to show the team’s camaraderie at the end of a game unlike any they had played before. I altered the image in the way I did to help the players stand out more against a black and white background to make sure they were centre stage, as they were in the game.

What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of taking up photography?

I would encourage anyone to pick up a camera and start taking photos, especially if you’ve got a story you want to tell, because as they say, a picture paints a thousand words. Don’t feel limited by the fact you might not have a high-end DSLR, most phones these days can add exceptional detail and control, so use what you have to hand and experiment with how you see things.

Anything you’d like to include?

I hope that my work will engage people and encourage them to learn more about the issues highlighted.

 

Nigel Whitbread – “Dragons Warriors Dreigiau Rufelwyr” photography collection is now available in print, and as a free download here.