Framed against bare walls, huddled on cold stairs and with the most modest of possessions, the toll of living without the comfort of a place to call home is captured in a series of powerful images.

Glasgow-based award-winning documentary photographer Margaret Mitchell set out to explore the impact of homelessness and to capture the emotional and practical consequences of being without a permanent home.

Rather than grim scenes of hostels, rough sleepers and sleeping bags, her powerful collection of images focused on telling the stories of the people she encountered, as they navigate fractured lives without a place of their own or finding their feet in their first proper home.

Now gathered into a new exhibition, the portraits and the stories behind them offer a rare peak into the realities of everyday life for Scotland’s homeless population and raises poignant questions over the circumstances and traumas that combined to leave them without a roof over their heads.

Mitchell’s previous works have documented challenging topics such as terminal illness and the harrowing combination of money worries, illness and end-of-life care.

She embarked on her latest project, An Ordinary Eden, in 2019. Working alongside Shelter Scotland and their Time for Change groups for people with lived experience of homelessness, she documented their journey through the difficulties of living in hostel accommodation to, in some cases, settling into their own home.

READ MORE: An Ordinary Eden: The real lives of Scotland's homeless


Mitchell says she hopes the portraits, accompanied by short videos in which she narrates their stories, can prompt reflection and compassion for those unfortunate to find themselves adrift.

“This work is rooted in an appeal to our basic humanity, our compassion,” she said. “The impact of being without a home – in all the ways that can happen – is understood not only in an immediate practical manner but also on an emotional level.

“The need to belong and have meaningful connections with others. We should all be able to do that in a society that cares, in a society that works for all.”

The exhibition, comprising 36 new works taken between 2019 and this year, has just opened at Street Level Photoworks gallery in Glasgow’s Trongate, where it will remain on show until mid-July.

The portraits show a mix of people with different backgrounds and histories ranging from profound inequality to having had support needs for mental health, addiction and recovery.

Some had fled domestic abuse or arrived in Scotland having escaped a war zone or forced migration.

HeraldScotland:  Copyright of Margaret Mitchell, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks. Copyright of Margaret Mitchell, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks. (Image: Copyright of Margaret Mitchell, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks.)

Among the powerful images is a portrait of a mother, Lyndsey, her face framed by the fur trim of her jacket’s hood and the glint of an earring, who moved into her first homeless accommodation aged just 16.

By 38 and having lost her sister to a heroin overdose, she had lived in over 25 different places, experiencing hostel after hostel and with a background full of trauma, chaos and disruption.

She is also photographed settling into her new permanent home, with one touching image showing her alongside her daughter, holding a cuddly toy the little girl gave her to cling to in times when they can’t be together.

Mitchell said: “Lyndsey worked hard to get her life to where she needed it to be, to a place to get her daughter back and a permanent place to stay.

“To improve the life of one person can improve the lives of others.”

She added that the length of the project meant she was able to follow people’s journey from hostel to permanent home and the start of their new life.

“One man said to me, ‘I’ve finally grown into the man I was meant to be’. This was 20 years after his first homelessness experience age 16, followed by many years of hostels,” she said.

Another individual, Michael, who was in temporary supported accommodation at the time, walked around Edinburgh during the first summer of lockdown, handing out food to fellow homeless people still on the street at that time.

HeraldScotland: MarcusMarcus (Image: Copyright of Margaret Mitchell, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks.)

“Another – Marcus – told me that being in my project had been part of his recovery journey. He was first homeless at age 15 and I met him just as he had been given the keys for his first permanent home as an adult, age 31.

“He was fully ready to live the life he always wanted but hadn’t been able to achieve to date due to various circumstances. He is now three years on from moving into his house and getting on very well.

“Other individuals still needed help even though they had secured permanent housing. Some people said they didn’t know how to manage a home and felt isolated, set up to fail somewhat.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a collaborative book made with people who took part in the project, with profits going to the Hardship Fund at Shelter Scotland, and website,

Mitchell added: People in my own extended family have been affected by the same issues so for me it was about raising awareness of those situations, amplifying those experiences.

“The work is very much about being human, about love, about loss and the need to be part of something.”

Margaret Mitchell: An Ordinary Eden is at Street Level Photoworks, Tollcross, Glasgow, until 16 July.