Exclusion, Isolation, Loneliness

This is part of our special feature, Homelessness and Poverty in Europe.


The European Commission defines homelessness broadly, noting that “beyond sleeping rough, [it] may include situations of living in temporary, insecure or poor-quality housing.”[1] EuropeNow gathers here three visual artists who illuminate the theme of housing insecurity and homelessness in different ways. Layla Aerts focuses on Belgium in her photographic journey that highlights social inequalities and the precarious living conditions of people who may be only one step away from homelessness. Grey Hutton utilizes an infrared thermal photographic process to translate these inequalities into degrees of warmth and cold, rendering poverty and homelessness into palpable sensations, which viewers feel in their flesh. Simultaneously subtle and frank, the contrasting and limited palette of these images places people who are often overlooked at the center of the urban gaze. In contrast to Hutton’s evocative style, James Earley uses hyperrealism to paint homeless people as he meets them, with no filter. The rawness and realism of his work invite viewers to enter the space, softening the social boundaries separating them from the models. The vertical surface of the paintings acts as a porous symbolic frontier and a door into the world of the street. As Earley vividly brings his subjects to life, he touches viewers by exposing his models’ sorrows and angst, as well as  their humanity and everydayness, bringing them into the community of urban dwellers. The three artists featured here strive to mobilize the public’s understanding toward the plight of people living in poor housing, on the street, or in temporary shelters.

Though artistically diverse, Aerts, Hutton, and Earley demand the audience’s attention and succeed in making the urban poor and the homeless visible by challenging social indifference. As the European Commission has noted, the lack of comprehensive data about homelessness constitutes an obstacle to the creation of adequate policies to tackle a social crisis that has only intensified in the last decade. By witnessing, capturing, interpreting, and sharing the lived experiences of homeless individuals, artists contribute a record of various aesthetic visions about the topic, keeping it at the forefront of social debates and challenging politicians to find lasting responses to the shortage of safe and affordable housing for all.


–Hélène B. Ducros for EuropeNow


Poverty in Belgium by Layla Aerts


Traces of Warmth by Grey Hutton

Alison, 48, wants to return to her family in Ireland after she is finished recovering from alcoholism. She’d rather sleep on the street than in a wet house, a shelter where alcoholic can drink as much as they want.
In areas with a high concentration of homeless people, many buildings use hostile architecture to prevent people sitting or laying down, here in Euston, UK.
Inside a McDonalds, a man has fallen asleep, the staff patiently working around him.
Darre, 33, reads his paper in St. James’s Church in Piccadilly, as others sleep in the pews behind him. He is being treated for an infection in his feet after being in the rain for too long.
Michael, 45, and Michelle, 44, examine a sandwich that has just been given to them by a passing woman. They have been together for three and a half years. They were recently attacked during their sleep, and Michael’s nose was broken.
A worried Neukölln resident in Berlin called about a man asleep in a flower bed with little protection and exposed to the cold weather. The team took him to the Templehof shelter, a disused airport hangar that sleeps 200 homeless people in the coldest months of the year.
Michael, 33, holds a cup of warm tea someone gave him. When he can, he sleeps under the cover of the Apollo Victoria Theatre. He is trying to save money for a rental deposit on a flat.
The soup kitchen at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest in London, feeds about 200 people a day. Most people attending do not live on the street but are considered homeless because living in poor housing conditions, in temporary shelters, hostels, or overcrowded spaces.
This homeless shelter, run by the Berliner Stadtmission, is one of the largest in Berlin, sleeping up to 200 people. It provides warm meals, showers, new clothes, and the possibility to charge phones.
Freddy, 29, and Natalie-Ann, 32, gather with friends outside McDonalds on Victoria Street. They just smoked “Spice,” a synthetic cannabinoid with unpredictable effects that can include convulsions and cardiac arrest.
Remnant of warmth from a man sitting on the pavement on Cranbourn Street. The contrast between the cold pavement and warmth highlights the effects of prolonged exposure to the cold.
Many homeless keep dogs for protection as they sleep and as companions. Most accommodations and shelters do not allow pets, forcing people to choose between the two.
Sandra, 36, sits and reads with her dog Harry, 12, hoping to get money from passersby doing their Christmas shopping around Kurfürstendamm, a popular shopping street in Berlin.


Homeless Series by James Earley

Violet And Blue Silence
Black And Red Lines
The Red Road



Layla Aerts is a socially engaged Belgian photographer who believes it is important to give oppressed groups a face and a voice. She has won several photography awards and was commissioned by the KADOC, a research center at the Catholic University of Leuven, for a series on poverty and exclusion. She is most interested in using her lens to capture inequality across the world and take poverty out of invisibility.


Grey Hutton is a freelance photographer who studied at London College of Communication before moving to Berlin, where from 2012 to  2018 he was the photo editor and staff photographer for VICE Germany. Currently living in Hackney, London, his most recent focus has been uncovering the local impact and response to COVID-19. This project has been supported by the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Fund for Journalists. His photography has been acquired for the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of London. 


James Earley is a self-taught British artist and one of the foremost pioneers of figurative and hyperrealism painting in Britain today. He uses his work to raise awareness about issues such as homelessness, mental health, and war. James was chosen to be a part of The Art Investors’ acclaimed 2013 “Seven Artists Exhibition,” which was held at London’s Strand Gallery and focused on seven of the very best young artists around the world. Later, his powerful and emotional studies of homeless people, victims of war, and religious martyrs led him to be nominated by The BP Portrait Award at the London National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters, and The Royal Institute Of Portrait Painters, culminating in his work being displayed at the iconic Mall Gallery in the heart of London. James was also selected in 2019 to show his work at the prestigious London Biennale, where he won first prize. James has been described by the German Kunst Heute publication as well as The International Contemporary Art Curators as one of the most significant artists in the world today. In 2019, James was also awarded the Giotto International Prize and the Leonardo da Vinci International Prize. In 2020, James was awarded the Venice International Art Prize and was chosen by The European Cultural Centre to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale 2022. James had the honor of having his work exhibited at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris and Bonhams Auction House in London in 2022.


Hélène B. Ducros, JD, PhD (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), is a human geographer whose research has focused on placemaking through heritage-making, landscapes of remembrance and commemoration, and the circulation of cultural models of heritage preservation. Her latest book (co-edited with Brian Petersen) is Justice in Climate Action Planning (Springer Nature, 2022).


All images by permission of the artists. All rights reserved.



[1] European Commission. Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1061&langId=en


Published on July 12, 2023.


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