#VendorWeek 2019: Big Issue Australia’s vendor Happiness Project

Words by Katherine Smyrk, The Big Issue Australia

It’s a row of doughnuts behind a glass case. The icing is shiny, sprinkles perfectly sprinkled. Marcus, a Sydney vendor, felt his name being called by the sweet treats (especially the chocolate ones), on display at his local chicken shop. He took a snap on a disposable camera, to document all the good things that come to mind when he thinks of his “happy place”.

“They are simple things,” he explained. “They are my weakness! They make you happy because they are sinful. Nothing special, you just get a nice doughnut.” Among other things he snapped: a train line that gets him around the city to where he needs to go; a nameplate affixed to the door of the room he’s called home since 2008. “I walk in and then think yeah, I’m home. And then I don’t care about anything else on the outside.”

Marcus sells The Big Issue in Sydney: "I live only five minutes from Concord West station. I rely on trains to get to work and get around, and I know the system inside and out. This tree attracts my attention every time it’s in flower. It’s just amazing, even in the heat – and if there’s a wind blowing in the right direction it smells nice."

Marcus’ happy snaps are part of The Big Issue’s Happiness Project in recognition of #VendorWeek. There are 110 publications in 35 countries around the world that are a part of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), and from 4-10 February we will all be celebrating the people at the heart of what we do: our vendors. For this special edition, we handed disposable cameras to 11 vendors from around this great big country along with a brief: take photos of your happy place – whatever, whoever, wherever that may be.

The results were more detailed, moving and nuanced than we could have hoped for, and really challenged the notions of what a happy place can look like.

It doesn’t have to be a tropical paradise, a dramatic vista, a person sitting in the lotus position while puppies and rabbits frolic at their feet. It’s much more straightforward, and all the more special for it.

It’s a rescue cat called Dizzy. Trevor, who sells the magazine in the Blue Mountains, met his neighbour Sandy through the cat. Sandy has become an important part of Trevor’s life, a big support when he was recovering from a heart attack, and he and his wife look after Dizzy when Sandy goes on holiday.

Trevor sells The Big Issue in The Blue Mountains: "I was down at Sydney Harbour to catch up with another vendor, so I thought I’d take a couple of pictures because I used to go there when I was homeless because there were people to see, and it was just peaceful. The water gives me a sense of relief."

“Dizzy is a rescue cat and it took a long a time to win over that trust,” says Trevor. “But he’s a great cat. He cuddles up to me and everything. I see myself in Dizzy, a little bit.”

It’s a piece of art, blu-tacked on a bathroom door. Stacey, a vendor and artist from Perth, photographed her bright painting of the word “Believe”.

David sells The Big Issue in Adelaide: "This is my doctor’s surgery – normally that wouldn’t be a happy place, but that day there were no other people, so I could go straight in and not worry about people watching me. I’ve been in hospital four times over the past year, and I like the idea of not having to sit in the waiting room."

“It means believe in yourself, no matter what. I see it every day – every time I go for a shower, every time I go to the bathroom to splash water on my face. It’s there as a reminder, because I’ve been through some dark times, but there are brighter times coming.”

Stacey sells The Big Issue in Perth: "I’m happy when I’m knitting, doing my artwork or out in my garden – combining these in this way seemed perfect. This is a section of blanket I’m knitting for myself. Art is really important to how I express myself, it helps me work through anything and everything."

It’s a song, a son, a soft light. It’s a guitar, leaning against a wall. A path that takes you home. Or a little trolley, loaded with Big Issue magazines, set up on the inner-city streets by Sydney vendor Rachel T.

Rachel sells The Big Issue in Sydney: "This is my son and his girlfriend kissing their baby, my granddaughter. She’s really beautiful. I thought, that’s what it’s about, making sure you’re happy no matter how much hardship you go through so your children can follow."

“Being a vendor is my happy place,” she explains. “I’m not a mum, I’m not a welfare recipient, I’m not a sick person – I’m Rachel T the vendor and I’ve got my own little office. I’ve had so many knockbacks in life, but it inspires me to get better because I can put into something. It’s not much, but I’m doing something.”

It wasn’t all straightforward, sending out 11 budding photographers and requiring them to take publish-worthy snaps. Shooting on film rather than with digital cameras or phones is something now foreign to most of us. Some of the prints we got back were obfuscated by a wobbly hand or bad lighting, but it was almost all the better for it. They told a story; it’s like you were following along behind the vendor as they documented their day. It’s clear, even in the unclear pictures, that a lot of thought had gone into their artistic choices.

Daryl sells The Big Issue in Melbourne: "I’ve always loved the city – the variety of people and shops and things. Even though I was born and raised in a rural area, I always felt I was a city person. In the country town I felt like I was a square peg in a round hole. Then I came to Melbourne and found my niche."

“It was good because it made me actually think about what makes me happy,” says Melbourne vendor Daryl, who captured the rain-slick streets around where he sells, the people and shops that have become home to him.

Caroline sells The Big Issue in Perth: "A friend of mine, Ray, drew Jon Bon Jovi for me for my birthday the year before last. It’s on my loungeroom wall. I call Bon Jovi my boyfriend! It’s the hair, the music, the leather jacket – I listen to his music every night before I go to sleep…much to my flatmate’s disgust. My favourite tune is ‘Never Say Goodbye’." Lenny sells The Big Issue in Melbourne: "My backyard in Brunswick used to be my happy place – it’s been sold and I’ve got a few days to find a new place. It’s a relaxing place where you can forget where you are, just kick back, stare at the clouds, and let yourself be surrounded by beautiful plant life and a fat cat that hangs out there a lot. " Andrew sells The Big Issue in Adelaide: "Outdoors and at the beach I’m at my happy place. It’s my church where I heal myself, thinking, walking, sorting my shit out – I leave it on the beach. I walk there every day come rain, hail or shine, thunder and lightning. Thunder and lightning is good, as I get straight out and watch it all come in." Eddie sells The Big Issue in Brisbane: "Exercise makes you feel better and I get that through bike-riding. It makes me feel like I can fly and forget about everything – it’s a stress relief. I took this photo of my mountain bike at Shorncliffe, a beautiful part of Brisbane. I find the water calming; I feel more at peace watching the waves." Les sells The Big Issue in Brisbane: "I took this photo because I’m skating every day. Skating makes me more and more happy – it’s the time I can be alone and get fresh air. I was snowboarding since I was 10, and skating since I was 16 – I’m 31 now. I wear through two to three pairs of shoes every month."

Rachel T found it harder than she anticipated: “I was trying to work out, what is my happy place? In all the assignments I’ve been given from The Big Issue I’ve never had one that was so hard. The fact is that no matter how hard life is, your happy place is whatever you make of it and that’s what I wanted to try and show.”

It’s a familiar concept, the happy place, but it’s not often that you stop and consider what it would be, for you. It’s not often you stop to take a photograph of it, celebrate it, give thanks for it. They aren’t always the most photogenic, the most glamorous, the most thrilling, but they matter. Happy places, they are simple things.

Read more coverage of #VendorWeek 2019 here.