“The road home”. Portraits of the homeless from Russia

“The road home”. Portraits of the homeless from Russia

Who are the people on the street? Photographer Pavel Volkov spent several months in Russian orphanages and shelters, photographing homeless and trying to learn their history. It was harder than he thought.

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I didn’t want to deal with the repetition of those stereotypes. We all know what that is, we see it all on the streets of our cities. So I decided to take portraits of the homeless for their project on a simple, neutral background.

I wanted to show how this drama — the loss of home, loss of its place in the “system” — can affect a person’s appearance.


Life on the street, troubles, fights, alcohol remains this black background. In front of the audience — only the man’s face, his look, facial expressions.

Shooting I spent in shelters in St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Moscow region in 2018.


Rooming house heating points house of industry or rehabilitation. They can be defined and be arranged in different ways. Entire buildings with several floors or a small single-storey buildings. In some you can stay overnight, others for a long time.

At first my idea was to shoot a portrait and present the history of man. But many refused to be photographed and almost everything to tell about yourself anything on the record.


And those stories with me all the same was divided, according to the staff of shelters are often not quite consistent with reality.

Some admitted that they are former drunks, drug addicts. Moreover, among my heroes were people of all ages, professions, and occupations, they are from different strata of society.


There were those who barely finished high school. And there were intellectuals with higher education. A former businessman who lost his business. Many of them have lost hope and the desire to get out of this situation.

In the suburbs I met a married couple — they met and married there, in the shelter. The man is in one of the photos, but his wife refused to be photographed.


And in another shelter I met a girl of age 20, who periodically come to visit people living there, an elderly woman brings her some sweets. The girl told me that she had come to help first as a volunteer, but she had a friend of the residents Sidama, and she tries to visit her, calls it friendship.


In orphanages and social care homes there are rules — they give you shelter and food, but you have to control yourself not to drink alcohol.

It is believed that living in these social houses is a chance for the homeless during his stay there to solve their own problems. With documents, for example. To find at least some work, if possible — a degree that the person once was.


So, in one of the shelters I was asked to take a photo for the passport. The elderly man recovered documents, and it needed a photo.

From all these meetings I particularly remember one shooting in St. Petersburg. Several times I went in one social house, knew some of the guests, they are with me greet.


They gave me a place where I could set the background and where there was normal light. I went around the house and deal with people. Beside me on the windowsill is often smoked one man and watched it all.


I keep it pulled, asked to be photographed. And when I finished the last shot, the man suddenly said, “Leaving already? Okay, I also take pictures”.

I immediately asked him to take the place, to the background, took out the camera. But he said very firmly: “No, you wait, I have to prepare.”


He went and put on his dress shirt. She was not the first freshness, quite tired. But he felt it was important to change into the best that he had, to comb, to clean myself up as much as possible.


For me it was the culmination, the most important conclusion from this work. It is easy to get to the bottom, and it’s difficult to get out. But I saw that man in any situation is trying to maintain a sense of dignity, it does not give him the abyss.

Photographer Pavel Volkov was born in the Urals, studied photography in St. Petersburg and moved to Moscow. His documentary projects focus on subcultures, army theme, the Paralympics. “Instagram” Paul — @pavelvolkovphoto.