Books & films | The Rootless
On any given day of the year there is between 5.000 and 6.000 homeless people in Denmark. They have chosen to stand outside - or we keep them out of our community. "But being homeless doesn't make you less of a complete human being", writes Preben Brandt in an epitaph. You still have friends and interests. You still choose and rejoice. "And it doesn't mean that you cannot love another person. Or that you don't feel the need to be loved in return". The pictures taken by Helga C. Theilgaard deliver these exact stories. "I wait for the instant when something authentic occurs - a closeness. And my finger press the shutter button".

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Review - 23rd January, 2011

KATALOG 2011
By Kristina Lykke Hansen

The photo book De Rodløse (The Rootless) is a troughly appealing project where the Danish photographer Helga C. Theilgaard (b. 1976) has photographed thirty homeless people and got Preben Brandt, dr.med., former chairman of the Council for the Socially Vulnerable, to write a postscript. The aim of the project, which has also been shown as a travelling exhibition, is to draw attention to homeless and thus lessen the distance between “us” and “Them”. You see them, you even recognize some of them as you walk past, yet they are not really a part of “us”. But Denmark has about 5000 homeless, 70% of whom have abuse problems and 37% of whom suffer from mental illnesses – people at the edge of society.

For each of the photo book´s thirty photographs of homeless people there is a short description that tells us a little about the subject´s background – their upbringing, their earlier life, their present life situation and its challenges. For example the aging doctor´s wife who began to drinking, was divorced and started a descent from privileged life among the respectable bourgeoisie to the bottom of society, or the young painter and hash abuser who has stagnated in his life situation. Their fates are harsh and in certain cases also pretty hopeless, but the portraits by no means show weak people. Theilgaard – not for nothing was she apprenticed to the Royal Court Photographer Rigmor Mydtskov – has photographed the homeless in her studio, where they have all been places quite consistently in front of a white background in a frontal position. This creates uniformity and gives the book a simple but captivating continuity. The black-and-white portraits are very straightforward, and the homeless appear with honesty and integrity. But one might question whether the almost clinical white background gives the homeless the best setting, since it is far from their habitual milieu and removes them from their history and everyday life, so that the pages come to appear as a Who´s Who of the homeless.