By Richard Flynn
INSP delegates and members of the media were treated to an unique perspective on Glasgow life on Thursday evening, as BBC Scotland HQ played host to the launch of the Eyes of the Street exhibition.
The exhibition is the result of a week-long photography workshop, which saw four homeless vendors of Scotland’s Big Issue street paper being coached on photography by world-renowned photojournalist David Burnett and his Photographers For Hope team.
The vendors, who had no prior experience using cameras, were encouraged to capture their lives through photography – an experience they recalled throughout the evening as “amazing,” “fantastic” and “very powerful”.
Pictures displayed in the exhibition include shots of homeless dwellings where they had previously spent the night, as well as self-portraits and photographs of friends. Despite being new to photography, the vendors’ work was challenging and evocative.
The show received a great response from delegates of the INSP conference. Richard Turgeon, from L’Itineraire in Canada, said: “This is impressive work, especially when you know that these photos were taken by people who had never touched a camera.
“It’s the best of two worlds – you have a really good piece of art, and the vendors are also very proud and are recognised for their work.”
Ash Croft, from The Big Issue in the North, added: “Photography is a medium through which anyone can produce something that tells a story.
“You can really see the benefit that this has had for the vendors. You get a really tangible sense of the confidence that’s been picked up; a real sense of pride in what they’ve produced.”
The exhibition not only gives the vendors a voice, but it is also ready to challenge preconceptions. Despite being a stark representation of homelessness in Glasgow, the resounding message of the vendors’ photography was one of hope.
When describing his visits to capture photos of troubled places from his past, vendor Daniel said: “I wouldn’t even say it was therapeutic. It was just rewarding to go there and say, ‘That’s not part of my life anymore.’
“It’s an amazing feeling, it was amazing working with them, and it’s just been one of the best experiences of my life.
“Coming here tonight has been really memorable, meeting so many people from so many places and countries. It’s been great.”
Perhaps more so than the pictures themselves, one of the most powerful aspects of the evening was the very clear friendships that have formed between the vendors and their Photographer For Hope coaches.
Vendor Malky, who described the overwhelming feeling of seeing his photography on display as he entered the exhibition, spoke fondly of his time working with David Burnett and admitted he was “a wee bit sad that the team are leaving.”
Anna Wang, one of the photographers who was involved in the project, said her time with the vendors was “a great opportunity and a great privilege.”
She said: “When we started this, we didn’t know what to expect: how the pictures would turn out, if people would like it… But this has far exceeded anybody’s expectations. Not so often do you get to connect with people on such a personal level.
“People like the vendors have often been ignored, and this workshop and exhibition has seen them being treated as human beings; they have something to say, and people are paying attention to them.
“I’m sure it’s very gratifying, and it’s been gratifying for us as well.”
The exhibition will now move to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where it will be on display until the end of August.
Photographers For Hope is a group committed to using their medium to inspire positive social change, and collaborate with groups who work to improve the lives of poor and disenfranchised communities around the world. You can find out more by visiting www.photographersforhope.org