27 Nov 2009

Kirk (Teasdale),Gateshead '07

This is the jaundiced specter of an angel of the north. Kirk forewarned me "look out for Bart(Simpson) in his mam's slippers." He'd travelled by public transport in his mother's baffies - his ankles were too swollen to fit his shoes. It was a bleak winter's day in Gateshead- verging on the Baltic. Nothing was going to stand between Kirk and a good blether, not even a recent liver transplant.
 I first met Kirk 18 years ago when he was the ebullient Geordie art-director of Time Out magazine. He had a reputation for bold commissioning and could bend ears like a clown with a box of balloons. Kirk summoned me into his office after being tickled by a photograph in which I'd coerced John Galliano to strip down to his loafers. Despite our local derby differences Kirk always fought my corner. He loved to book a ring-side seat at my shoots and embroider "the tale."
Kirk now, '09 Baltic Flour Mills, Gateshead

 Kirk has won his battle but keeps warring on; shirked the demons and the yella-fella but he'll never lower his guard. He's unburdening some of his emotional debt by creating a coordinated interface between transplant services, donors and recipients.
 In his time as an art-director Kirk discovered and nurtured many photographers who went on to lead successful careers. One pretender to benefit from his stewardship was fashion photographer John 'Rankin' Wardell who he spotted at a St.Martin's degree show. Kirk couldn't hold back telling me that Rankin had consented to shoot him for his recent 'Rankin Live' project and was rewarded with a commemorative 'Ranked' badge! The funny thing was, we couldn't see the irony - there was none to be found.
 I gave Kirk my hand and he resisted the temptation to be himself, choosing instead to parody a patient he'd observed in rehab. As I said, he can't help telling the tale - long may he keep spinning.

24 Nov 2009

Big Issue- Vendor Awards

Peter (Corstophine)

Scott (Lowrie)

Local dignitaries, politicos and the homeless rubbed shoulders at the Merchant's House, Glasga. The occasion was to mark the first vendors awards - Real Lives, Real Achievements.Joan, John, Scott and Barry were rightly celebrated for their role as ambassadors for the homeless and the Big Issue.

Barrie (Greenan)

Everyone was well turned out; in their best and on their best- well almost. Barrie couldn't resist shouting back answers to the speaker's rhetorical questions - something they hadn't scripted for. Each vendor gave a short acceptance speech recognising the pivotal role the Big Issue played in turning their lives around. It was one of those rare occasion; a ceremony that counted for something, reality without the tv.

The celebratory mood was briefly tempered when John broke news from the podium of his and Lisa's imminent relocation south of the border. As a keepsake of the moment Lisa asked for a 'photie o' evrywan." Martin piped-up "put yer hons oot."

Stephen Robertson, CEO The Big Issue

The big guns were in attendance. CEO Stephen Robertson applauded the achievements of the vendors and spoke of the urgent need for the expansion of the services to be provided by a Big Issue Scottish Foundation.

Big Issue founder John Bird CBE (above) gave an impassioned speech recalling the inception of the Big Issue in Scotland in '69. The organisation had come a long way and was more vital than ever. He distinguished the aims of The Big Issue from that of 'charities' with a salient turn of phrase - "the Big Issue is a hand-up, not a hand-out." 
 With genuine concern John suggested I upgrade my camera (a compact) for something more professional and wondered if I knew that "the Big Issue discovered Rankin?" I presumed he didn't mean on the streets. He probably thought, sincerely, that I could benefit from his years of experience in the publishing industry.  Or, had I been ranked?

20 Nov 2009

Saltmarket Sting

The wind was coursing the Saltmarket like an ice-hockey stick in search of a puck. It had found David who'd torn-up the script "tha's it, nae mare drugs." David was homeless - again. He's used to being on his own, he'd lost his ma and tried to take his life but the branch broke- a hard lesson to swallow. His flat was torched, everything was lost: his music system, dvd's, even the freeview. Stood in all his worldly goods: trackie gear and unblemished trainers, he dug out 75p, all he had to his name - enough for one copy.


David pitched-up at Argos car park as the rain pecked through the polyester. It's tough to start over- again, he begins his day the Baron Sugar way: buys one copy, sells one copy, buys two copies... 

 Jimmy got unstuck at 12 with his first bag of glue. Drug and alcohol fueled abuse followed. Now he's re-born and recovering, seeing the world anew through fervoured eyes.
  "Can you bless me?" he asked sheepishly, "Put yer hon' on ma heed?" He paused and plucked-up courage "Can I return the blessin'? Can I put ma hon' on the camera?"

"Tell them 'am 'Healin Hons' Jimmy."

Jimmy's eyes are a slew-gate, metering the cycle of touching "hons." His life is on probation, sentenced to another night curfewed from society. He dreads going back to the hostel and fears the delinquent nights. It's been his shelter for fourteen years but he'd never call it home. He needs his faith and, he confesses, The Big Issue.

17 Nov 2009


Professional Photographer, November 2009.

I ain't no saint!

13 Nov 2009

Saltmarket from Street Level

The Pyramids are wrapped in sub-zero silk. It's minus 2 in the Saltmarket and the chill factor is set to raw.

  Janice has been off the streets for the past fortnight; unable to cope with the news. Both her parents had been diagnosed with cancer. Her mother is to undergo chemotherapy after surgeons removed a lump from her breast. By the time they discovered her father's pancreatic cancer there was little hope of remission. 

 Janice's is torn by her mother's torment. She is terrified of her daughter being abandoned - again. Janice is adopted.

The Big Issue
gives Janice a sense of purpose and the generosity of her regulars lightens her burden.


  At the Saltmarket HQ I volunteered to guide a family of Roma to their pitches and set off with my vertically overawed travellers in tow. In a door entrance sheltered from the preying wind we prepared to take the first shot. My arm was out and Florita (mother) was in position when we got the order to move on. Our interference with the automatic door was causing a draft. The belligerent security guard wouldn't see reason. We weren't causing an obstruction, I explained that I was a photographer and only needed a matter of seconds. She was emphatic "Do you no' understand? You're letting in the cold." Pointing at my shivering companions I applauded her grasp of meteorology and sense of common courtesy. As the glass doors were closing I ended the cross-examination "just to clarify; it is just the cold that's the problem?" She tightened her fingers inside her wool gloves, shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and returned to her post. 


Florita and the others shrugged their shoulders in unison. The language-barrier had been crossed without the need for translation. They were accustomed to this open display of hostile hospitality.


On my return to base I retraced my steps, eager to find out what kind of establishment would refuse such a meager request. Could it have been the foyer of some legal or financial institution? I had to lock my knees from buckling under the weight of the irony. Not only was it a public space, it was an arts complex with a 'street-level' photographic gallery!

At The Big Issue there a policy of non-discrimination, everyone and everything gets through the door - especially the cold. 

9 Nov 2009

Saltmarket Syndrome

Sodden sheep pin-down the Pyramids as the tarmac conveyor grinds to a crawl. 


The Saltmarket is exerting it's grip, I've become it's willing hostage; Saltmarket Syndrome? "Billy fae Fife" carries the wind on his back like a sack of coal. He tilted his head skyward and looked me up-and-down like a war-torn terrier. His eye gleamed like an sapphire on a butcher's apron. Billy took my hand as though he was going to lead me on a dance.


Frankie - Big Issue vendor support worker.

It turns out there's a soccer star at The Big Issue depot. You'd never know, Frankie's too modest to let on. It was his 5 goals against Poland that secured Scotland's 2007 World Cup victory in Copenhagen. The final score: Poland 3, Scotland 9.

Frankie was Glasgow born, Gorbals raised and delinquency bound until he signed-up with the Scotland Homeless football squad and the team at the Big Issue.


  A distress-flare bobbed above the counter bleating "been bullied, been bullied". Taunts and threats are a regular occurrence for Neil. His unquestioning trust can leave him vulnerable and exposed. He can't comprehend the retarded comments and jibes, he says "everyone gees me kisses an' cuddles." 

 Despite the danger and his fears, he keeps returning to his pitch. Neil loves his regulars, Neil loves everyone - unrequited. He takes the punches but could never deal them.
  Neil needs care in the community. Meanwhile the Big Issue Scotland Foundation will continue to provide Neil with the support that society ruefully neglects to provide him with. 


  Stephen started vending a couple of weeks ago, it gives him "a sense of direction," but he's still nervous. "It's the youths you've gotta watch oot fer" he warned, pointing to a slit in his shewn crop. Stephen had intervened when a group of students were set upon by the Sooside (pronounced 'suicide') Cumbie. One of the Cumbies (Gorbals) gang drew out a "steakie" and stabbed him "in the heed." He recalled his amazement when the surgeons used super-glue instead of stitching him up.  

"Be careful" he advised, "that no-one thinks yer a pro-active". I showed him my id.