All Rights Reserved ©Christopher Michael Tew
Photographs & Words By Christopher Michael Tew
On February 14th, 2014, I walked into a cluster of tents hidden in the bushes on the edge of my hometown Harlow, 33 miles northeast of London. Nothing could have prepared me for the journey I would embark on, or the friendships I’d form along the way. It would allow me access into a destructive punch-drunk, giro junkie world on the streets I’d walked for years.
I discovered a community of Eastern European alcoholic immigrants surviving on scarce benefit payday, shoplifting, begging, and eating out of bins. They’d created a bond with local British drug users, homeless alcoholics and mentally ill street-walkers, to create a gang-like community always on the look out for the police — and where the next fix, beer can, or fight would be found.
Armed with a camera, my intention was to film a window into the unseen lives of the down-trodden, destitute underbelly of a declining southern British working class town.
I wanted to capture the existence of the forgotten. What I uncovered was pure sadness, spirals of pain and negativity — and the fall from grace. As my assignments over the years have taken me around the world, something drew me back to Harlow to uncover the story of those who have hit bottom.
I moved into a tent, adopted their lifestyle and immersed myself with the intention of understanding their day-to-day lives. I won them over by playing guitar and writing songs about their past lives, troubles, and hopes for the future. The film I created follows the codependent lives and volatile relationship of Mel and Gundiga.
The year I spent with them I was given various film cameras found in bins, or thrown out by second-hand or charity shops. In April I was approached by one of the members of the community with a bag of unopened 35mm colour film found in a super market bin. I used this film to capture the photos in my book — “Poison Flower”.
I noticed that Mel kept a diary with notes and personal paper. As the photos where developed I would stick them in new diaries for her to keep. I encouraged her to write on the photos and to ask other people from the community to contribute. In all, I created 5 different diaries with the photos taken over my year long documentation.
Life’s true gift, the unknown adventures we allow ourselves to embark upon. In search of truth and discovery, “Poison Flower” swept me for a year aboard a roller coaster of desperate human survival. I’ll forever walk with the memories we lived and the lessons of two down-trodden, destitute females taught me from the shadowy corners of my hometown to frozen Latvian soil. A journey only possible if you allow your one genuine companion and protector — the camera— to lead you to the undiscovered.
Christopher is a self-taught visual artist specializing in photography and video. To see more of Christopher’s work, visit his website at www.christophermichaeltew.com.