Here at The Archer Project, we caught up with our 'To the Gate and Back' photographer: Mark Harvey, to find out about his life in photography and his passion for working with the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield.
Born in Bristol, Mark moved to North Devon at the age of six where he attended grammar school. Mark states he wasn’t particularly academic and left with two o-levels. After school, he joined the Royal Marines aged 17, where he spent six years and did three tours of Northern Ireland, during the troubles.
Following on from leaving the Royal Marines Mark decided to go and work on the oil rigs in the North Sea, it's where he started thinking about becoming a photographer.
‘When I was on the rigs I thought “well I want to do something else with my life” and that's when I started thinking about doing photography. I realised I was fine with being thrust into different environments and working with people I didn’t know, from all different backgrounds.’
After 4 years of hard working conditions and isolation on the oil rigs, Mark decided to move to Sheffield and it's here he enrolled on a foundation course in photography at the polytechnic university, which is now known as Sheffield Hallam. Following on from the foundation he went onto study for a BA Hons Degree in Photography at Derby University.
After spending three years learning the craft and completing his degree, Mark started working freelance and eventually was employed by the Prison Probation Service. He would travel up and down the country visiting numerous prisons.
‘When I’d go into prisons I’d meet a lot of ex-forces people. We had this common language, it doesn't matter if they are in prison or whatever, you start talking about the forces and the shared experiences.’
A decade or so later Mark heard a talk given by a member of The Archer Project at a networking event. After hearing the talk he was interested in documenting homelessness in Sheffield.
‘I was very much aware of the people you see on the street and you hear they are living in poverty, or are addicted to drugs. They are known as the ‘other’ and that’s because we don’t know them.’
Mark's empathetic nature and desire to change the single narrative often portrayed around the homeless community, was the reason he began volunteering at the project.
‘I’m used to working in difficult situations, I seem to get on well with people and they seem to trust me so I started volunteering and taking people out in the minibus.’
Mark began running a photography group with The Archer Project’s service users, taking them out to various locations to take pictures.
‘During the time I started the photography group, I was working on a project documenting rough sleepers. I said to the group ‘Can I show you what I’m doing, what do you think?’ and I showed us a couple of pictures and people started saying “Why are you showing us this shit? You're showing us our lives, why do I want to see that?” And I realised it was like I was throwing it back at them. I see their situation and how desperate it is and I’m showing them and saying ‘do you think this is good?’
After months of volunteering, Mark started to build relationships with the people who use the project's services, and he started thinking in-depth about homelessness and the way society devalues and dehumanises someone without a home.
‘Society seems to be sort of separating the haves and the have nots, and it seems to be growing wider.’
Over the pandemic, Mark took pictures at the project almost every day and he started noticing people turning up at the project who had never been homeless before.
‘During the lockdowns, people were turning up who had never experienced homelessness. Here they were on the streets with no support as a result of the pandemic and they didn’t know what to do.’
Taking pictures throughout the pandemic was a challenging task as many of the project's users were cautious of having their picture taken as they feared being judged by society but Mark says it was a humbling experience that allowed him to meet some amazing people.
To The Gate and Back, explores a challenging period for the charity through a series of photographic and audio/visual mediums. In total, the exhibition features 54 photographs taken by Mark which document his work at the project from before covid, during covid and a look forward to the future.
‘I’m hoping this exhibition will show the work The Archer Project does which isn’t always visible to the public. Their work goes on to change lives and help people to overcome the trauma they have endured.’