the dark side
In 2009 I began documenting Glasgow's Big Issue vendors as part of touch (click to view). The following encounter was a result of my meanderings in Glasgow's Saltmarket and city center.
We met at his pitch on the steps of Queen Street station. He swayed from side-to-side like a marionette, strings pulled by a pissed puppeteer. The sadistic Glasgow chill cut to the core as he brandished a *Big Issue at dodging commuters. Like many of Glasgow's homeless he was addled by alcohol, methadone and hyperbole. Deciphering his slurred Glesga drawl was a test for the most cunning of linguists.
I offered him my outstretched hand. He rejected it outright, suspicious of its intentions. His comfort zone was out-of-bounds. His personal space was no go. This was Barrie.
Learning that he’d been voted ‘Scottish Big Issue Vendor of the Year’ put a spin on my preconceptions. I approached him broadside and asked if he’d entertain being photographed. He had survived being punched, kicked, stabbed and beaten- I reckoned being shot wouldn't kill him. His response was an emphatic “Aye”. For Barrie this was affirmation that he was somebody.
Speak to Me
Over the coming months I would shuttle coast-to-coast to meet him. Our moments in the studio were painful and profound, tearful and spiked with gut wrenching laughter. The studio became his sanctuary, a place he could be himself, free from bravado and pugilistic posturing without fear of ridicule or rejection. Out on the street his associates would betray his trust at the drop of a penny in the hat.
Barrie’s circumstances belied his unremarkable beginnings. He was the bright boy next door, schooled in the comprehensive system, literate and numerate, son of hard loving and working parents. His future was derailed at the age of 17 by the movie ‘Trainspotting’. Barrie bought his first “kit” to experience the feeling Renton had when cocooned by the carpet. His first shot ended in an overdose. Undeterred, on discharge from Intensive Care, he acquired another kit and kick-started his new life.
On the Run
In the ensuing years he fuelled his addiction to heroin through car theft. Barrie isn’t violent by nature and viewed this vocation as victimless crime. He was the master of the art of hot wiring and king of getting caught. When he wasn’t sleeping rough or seeking refuge in godforsaken hostels he’d be languishing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, self-harming in search of solitary respite. HM Prison Barlinnie was home for much of Barrie’s adult life. Diagnosed with post traumatic stress and given no support on the outside he’d be left to wander the mean streets of Glasgow in search of cold comfort.
Inevitably the time came to extinguish the burning question- his ‘Glasgow Smile.’ The answer was as unfathomably inhuman as it was casually horrific. Barrie was sheltering from harm in one of the city's less salubrious hostels when he was pinned to the ground by two assailants. With a broken bottle they gouged and carved the grin that would be his sentence to social exile. The price of the one-way ticket- the fiver in his pocket. Cast out and outcast, a pariah barred from society, his only recourse was a life of crime and latterly hawking a homeless periodical in search of self-respect.
The Great Gig in the Sky
In our time together I shouldered and picked him up, helped exonerate him when framed by the police, enrolled him into a health centre, ferried him to and from hospital… On our journey I saw him contract hepatitis, be beaten within an inch of his life, temporarily overcome his addiction to alcohol and tear-up the ‘script’- methadone.
Barrie’s health and self esteem was on the up and we needed to sign our sessions off on a high note the money shot. The perfect end came by way of sublime synchronicity. Scotland’s first comprehensive survey of dental health and the homeless had been completed and it’s organisers requested a photograph of Barrie for the reports cover. By default or circumstance the homeless are denied access to dental care, leading to self-medication and extraction, anything to relieve the pain. Reproduction fee? No brainer- false teeth to furnish his moribund mouth. To see the Glaswegian smile would be our swan-song.
After months of pulling, drilling and fitting Barrie’s rejuvenation was compete. The only image I have of this transformation was taken on my phone. True-to-form he lost his new teeth and smile shortly thereafter.
Us and Them
We have stayed in touch, firm friends in the hour of need. I met him for the last time before embarking to Berlin. I arranged to collect him, yet again, from hospital- gaunt and sallow, a shadow of his former self. Now 750 miles separate us and word is Barrie's back on the street, homeless, whereabouts unknown. Missing person, again.
last seen August 2014
* The Big Issue is a UK based weekly magazine sold by the homeless and vunerable.