Photographer Shoots Thermal Photos of the Homeless in the Winter

With homelessness on the rise in countries across Europe, photographer Grey Hutton decided to take to the streets of London and Berlin to shoot portraits of the homeless in winter months using a thermal camera. His project is titled Traces of Warmth.

“I wanted to get closer to these marginalized members of our society and, through their stories and my pictures, offer a new perspective on the realities of living on the streets in the unforgiving environments of Europe’s two largest economies,” says Hutton, who calls both London and Berlin home.

“Using a state-of-the-art infrared camera that records human body temperature, I set out to create intimate and vivid images of those I met in their surroundings, illuminating the extremity of their living conditions in a way that the human eye cannot see.”

Sandra, 36, sits and reads with her dog Harry, 12, hoping to get money from those passing by doing their Christmas shopping around Kurfürstendamm, a popular shopping street in Berlin.

Nauris, 36, is from Latvia but has been living in Germany for 10 years, 3 of which have been spent on the street. He sleeps under the cover of Hansaplatz U-Bahn station. He prefers to be sleeping on the streets than in one of the shelters because he doesn’t like the attitude of some of the men staying there. He currently walks with the help of a crutch after hurting his leg badly. This knife is kept open in his sleeping bag each night because he feels particularly vulnerable at the moment. Attacks are common when you live on the street. The camera picked up -4°C and Nauris has just one sleeping bag. He told me it was ok, “the winters in Latvia are much worse”.

“Through their stories, and the striking infrared color palette, I hope to highlight some of the difficulties of sleeping on the streets, and the importance of greater funding for councils to face the growing numbers of rough sleepers, and provide adequate support and housing for those in need,” Hutton says.

Darren, 31, and his dog Indie pose for a portrait under Waterloo Bridge where he’s been living for the last 8 months. He sells The Big Issue on St. Martins Lane, and has been homeless on and off since he was 15. The platform they live on has incredible views of the river, but the council are trying to issue an ASBO to have them removed. Recently someone threw a shopping trolley at them whilst they slept, attacks are regular so sleep is often minimal. Lack of sleep is a huge problem for a lot of people living on the streets. As well as the adverse effects it has on mental health, sleep deprivation means the body is more prone to contracting other illnesses and infections, and when your exposing yourself to sub-zero temperatures on a regular basis together with the constant inhalation of fumes from car exhausts, a good night’s sleep can mean the difference between life and death.

Two homeless men shelter themselves in freezing conditions under a bridge over Landwehr Canal in Berlin, whilst the U1 train speeds past overhead. A small container of warm food lies next to them. Its estimated there are around 6,000 people living on the streets of Berlin and a further 25,000 people living in temporary housing. Winters can be brutal, with Siberian winds bringing temperatures of -10°C.

Paul, 41, has been homeless for 3 years and his “patch” is between The Ritz Hotel in London and a telephone box. On a good day he makes £40, and on a bad day £15, but he tells me Christmas is the best time of year. He’s black listed from shelters because of fighting, and feels there isn’t enough support in place for people getting out of jail.

“It is my hope that by adding a new perspective to this growing problem, these images will act as a vivid reminder to some of our cities greatest failings, and perhaps encourage us to show a little more warmth to those members of our communities that are all-too-often overlooked,” Hutton says.

Denise, 29, is originally from Czech Republic and Miro, 45, her boyfriend, is from Slovakia. Denise suffers from schizophrenia and they live together under the bridge next to Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin. The silhouette of a rose sits in the foreground of the image.

Michael, 45, lives on the streets of Piccadilly with his partner Michelle. They’ve been together for 3 and a half years. Due to the dangers of night they refer to themselves a nocturnal. A group recently attacked them whilst sleeping, breaking Michael’s nose.

A beacon of heat unseen to the human eye at night, HalleLuja, or “the bubble of dreams” as one resident from Bulgaria described it, is a homeless shelter run by the charity Berliner Stadtmission. It sleeps up to 120 people, making it one of the largest in Berlin. It’s a first come first serve basis, but well-behaved regulars are often allowed to reserve beds. It’s a chance for many to get a warm meal, a shower, some new clothes, and charge their phones. Lights are slowly turned off at 11 pm and gradually turned back on at 6.30am the following morning.

The soup kitchen at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest in London, feeds about 200 people a day. Different charitable organisations arrive at different times in the day to hand out tea, coffee and a variety of meals. Most of the people attending aren’t actually living on the streets, but are still classified as homeless, living in hostels or other temporary housing, often in overcrowded spaces with poor living conditions.

All the photos in Traces of Warmth were shot using a Flir T1030sc HD infrared camera that was loaned to Hutton for the purpose of this project, “the first of its kind to be attempted with this camera,” Hutton says.

Hutton shot the street photos between December 2017 through February 2018, and the coldest temperature he experienced while out was -17°C (1.4°F) in Berlin.

Next to the Berliner Stadtmission at Bahnhof Zoo someone sleeps in the open train station entrance. The camera picked up a lowest temperature of -10°C that evening, but the infrared shows us that even this insufficient shelter is offering some protection from the freezing conditions outside.

Lukasz, 36, is photographed inside HalleLuja. He is from Poland but has been in Germany for a year, half of which spent in Berlin’s Moabit Prison following allegations he attacked someone with a knife, which he denies. He’s been on the streets for 3 months and like so many homeless people I’ve met Lukasz has ADHD, though says he uses it for motivation. He misses the routine of a job, and hopes to find one in a warehouse soon.

Dominik, 39, is originally from Poland but lived in London for 13 years working as a cleaner. He explained to me he used to live in a tent in Tottenham with his wife, then pregnant with twins. When temperatures dropped to -7°C his wife grew sick from overexposure to the cold. She was taken to hospital with a body temperature of 22.3°C, but tragically died 4 days later along with the twins inside her. He’s been in Berlin now for 5 months.

A large rat runs past a makeshift homeless camp at night next to Ostbahnhof. There are many detrimental health effects directly linked to living on the street, and rats can pose a serious threat. Their bites, urine and faeces carry harmful bacteria’s such as E coli and leptospirosis, and they are often found living in close proximity to makeshift camps.

Inside McDonalds on Victoria Street in London, a young man has fallen asleep with his head in his lap. He has been there for over an hour, with the McDonalds staff patiently working around him. His friends are outside smoking “Spice”, a synthetic cannabinoid. The group described it as “the new heroin” due to its popularity among people on the street, and said four people they knew had died from it in the last two weeks. Because the potency often depends on the batch, the effects are unpredictable and can cause convulsions, acute psychosis, and heart attacks. Dr Hickey, who runs a practice specifically for the homeless, told me 3 of her patients after smoking Spice had gone into cardiac arrest in her surgery in one week.

You can find more of Hutton’s work on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photographs by Grey Hutton and used with permission