Meeting the Big Issue Vendors

29 06 2009

I was invited to go along to the Big Issue offices in Birmingham today to help out in their ‘enrichment’ week, talk to some of the vendors about photography and help launch a photo competition. I decided that travelling by train would be the best idea so I set off at 8.30 this morning and made my way to the City centre.

I had  put together a slide show of some of my own images to show to the vendors to help me explain the basics of composition, rule of thirds etc etc and was expecting a small number who had expressed an interest to be there. These kind of things don’t normally go to plan so I wasn’t particularly surprised when none of them turned up. So, we set out onto the streets of Birmingham to go and meet some of the vendors and explain what was going on, arm them with a disposable camera and try to build up some enthusiasm in them to go out and take some photographs.

Decca

Decca

Having worked with newspaper sellers for a long time in my previous job, I was aware of the kind of characters that this kind of job generally attracts so I was looking forward to having a chat and photographing some of them. The diversity of people was quite amazing, French, Canadian, Romanian and British were all represented and all selling the Big Issue on the streets on designated selling pitches. When you get chatting to these people they all seem quite willing to share their stories too, many were or had been users of heroin, some were on methadone programmes, some were alcoholic, some had been in and out of jail all of their lives, some had only recently arrived in the UK and others were simply working to earn some money. All extremely friendly people, despite what difficulties they have had or are having in their lives.

Big Issue 009

They earn 80p for each issue they sell and seem to rely on regulars and ‘drops’ where people simply give them money, but having an ID badge and being issued with a jacket identifying them as official Big Issue vendors really gives them some identity on the street. The workers at the Big Issue aside from the day to day ‘office’ duties also seem to take on an ‘outreach’ role, talking to people on the streets, helping them out, to the point of supplying sunscreen today as it was sweltering, and trying to help them get some stability to their lives.

Big Issue 011

From what I have seen it’s a really supportive organisation and it was a real pleasure and experience to talk to some of their vendors. Hopefully they will get out with their cameras and take some interesting photographs, there could be some very interesting results!

I managed to capture this whilst we were walking about. I didn’t realise it at the time but the two people on the right hand side of the photo really provide a great contrast to the main subject. Bit of a lucky shot.

Climbing, Sitting and Sleeping

Climbing, Sitting and Sleeping

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17 responses

29 06 2009
Pete Tiley

Great post Steve and that last shot is a cracker. I sadly now have mixed feelings over the recent upsurge in the number of foreign nationals here selling the Issue. I understand the ethos of migration and wanting a better life, but how can one end up feeling that when you live the life of a vendor, who we all know are subject to abuse. I would imagine it may depend on the previous life. Great post.

29 06 2009
Steve Green

Absolutely Pete, they must have been through some right horrors to make such a drastic change in their lives. There is a certain amount on entrepreneurialism there though, whilst I was at the offices later on two Romanian chaps turned up and bought 400 copies of the magazine, I assume they sold them on in areas where the offices were not.

29 06 2009
Pete Tiley

Interesting, can you say what the cost is to the vendor, based on the 80p return?

29 06 2009
Steve Green

I couldn’t possibly say Pete, but they retail at £1.50 😉

29 06 2009
Simon

Yes, great post Steve. You’ve captured some great characters here. Makes me feel a bit guilty that I never buy the big issue. I think I will in the future.

29 06 2009
Steve Green

It’s quite a good read Simon. I must admit to not buying one for a while as I am not in town centres much these days……..and I clear forgot to get one today…….duh!

29 06 2009
makemeadiva

Love the last shot – the Big Issue are running a poetry competition I’ve helped organise, the theme is invisible lives. I think this shot sums it up beautifully. I’ll link people to here for inspiration if I may?

30 06 2009
Steve Green

Absolutely no problem. I had a chat to the chap I was with today and apparently they had to go out and buy some more cameras. He also mentioned an art project which produced some great paintings apparently.

30 06 2009
dotcomphotography

Great Blog! Steve, just what I’ve come to expect. I’m ashamed to say that I too have never bothered to purchase a Big Issue, but I will in future. All the images you’ve used to illustrate this article are great, but the last one is special.

30 06 2009
Steve Green

Thanks John, appreciate the comment.

30 06 2009
jasondale

A great read Steve and some good images to go with it. Top marks on your blog too. I’m going to give it a go too but i doubt I’ll find much to blog about…

1 07 2009
Steve Green

Cheers Jason. You never know what’s going to happen that ou can blog about. I’m enjoying it so you should have a crack.

31 07 2009
Alex Taylor

Fantastic shots here, an absolute eyeopener

10 08 2009
The Blog of Steve Green

[…] Ledbury in Herefordshire over the last weekend. I have done some volunteering before (blogged in this section), so when I was asked to help out at the festival I jumped at the chance. My friend went […]

29 05 2012
Amy Mathews

Hey there! I’ve just stumbled upon this as I too have taken an interest into this particular subject… Tomorrow I am off to exeter to meet with the office to become a volunteer supporting the vendors. This has been a big interest of mine for some time and has sparked some creativity for me as in september, I am off to Falmouth University to study Press and Editorial Photography. Can you give me any tips as to how to what sort of questions you asked?
Thank you, Amy

29 05 2012
Steve Green

Hi Amy.
Good luck with it, its likely to be a bit of an eye opener for you, you will no doubt meet some real characters there and they will have some stories to tell. You will probably be introduced to everybody by an existing staff member so you’ll get some background there, then just ask what you want to know. Most that I met were very happy to chat and didn’t appear to be uneasy about opening up. Top people all that I met.
Have fun!

9 07 2016
veronica

Hi, I’ve stumbled on your blog whilst looking for a big issue vendor friend of mine, who sadly disappeared in 2009. I’ve never found him, or his friend and 3 dogs. I’m still looking, even after 5 years of already looking. He was named damian, and worked outside the old new Street station in brum. I’m still looking, this is a good blog. Shame the big issue office don’t care enough to find him, or keep records of his vendor number.

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