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Close The Door On Past Dreariness is an exhibition by Damien Wootten shown at Newcastle Arts Centre from Saturday 29th January – 26th February.
This exhibition is about the current homeless crisis in Newcastle upon Tyne – and it is one that reflects a national story. The number of rough sleepers has doubled in the past five years. 688 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2020 – the average age at which a homeless man died was 45, and for a homeless woman it was 41. The rise is in part attributed to austerity, benefit sanctions, the lack of social housing and the roll out of Universal Credit. Rough sleepers are the visible homeless – many more are ‘invisible‘ – trapped in temporary accommodation, hostels or shelters.
In response to these stark statistics, and witnessing himself the increasing number of homeless people on the streets of Tyneside, Damien began photographing the homeless during the winter of 2017/18 – and continued to do so up to and throughout the pandemic. It’s a subject and sight that has become so familiar that perhaps we no longer question the morality of a system that creates a situation where people live on the streets, and accept it as the norm.“
These photographs offer us the time to stop, look and consider. How do we respond?”
Damien currently lectures on photography in the Department of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University. He has worked extensively in the community, working on many research projects, commissions, residencies and collaborations.
He is a director of Banyan Arts – an organisation that delivers arts based workshops to a range of groups as diverse as stroke survivors, parents and carers of young people with addictions – and refugee and asylum seekers. Damien runs photography, art and creative writing sessions to encourage well-being, confidence building and rehabilitation through creative expression and togetherness. Since January he has been teaching at Gateshead Clubhouse – a community mental health hub, working directly with some of those most affected by the mental health impact of isolation, due to lockdown.