Submitting InstitutionArts University Bournemouth
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
This research impacted on two of the most important social and political
issues to face western governments: joblessness and homelessness. Twenty
photographic images and texts showed and described the circumstances of Big
Issue vendors, some rough sleepers and some in temporary
accommodation, trying to cope through the worst recession in decades and
often feeling ostracized by society. Shown in London and Birmingham and
cascaded across the media, it reached a wide audience. The impact of the
exhibition and its aftermath consists in alerting and informing
viewers/readers concerning the plight of joblessness and homelessness in
Paul Wenham-Clarke was the sole researcher. During the period of the
research January 2008 - December 2010 he held the position of Senior
Lecturer in the School of Media and Performance at Arts University
Wenham-Clarke's research took him on a journey to locations mainly hidden
from public view. He researched where people slept rough or in temporary
accommodation within and without cities. This was not intended as a survey
and therefore the sites and individuals represented were selected with
qualitative impact in mind. The research involved not only identifying
appropriate locations and individuals but also importantly working to win
the confidence of the subjects he intended to photograph and gaining their
The research for Hard Times developed from an earlier successful
project: When Lives Collide which examined the impact of fatal car
accidents on relatives of survivors. This research was commenced in 2004
and, was given financial support (£110,000) by the Green Flag motoring
organisation. The images were exhibited in 2006. The project subsequently
developed further and continues to be debated as well as to generate
spin-off publications and events. http://www.whenlivescollide.co.uk/
As with this earlier project, Hard Times addresses how human
beings cope in extreme adversity. One of the challenging things for this
research was to steer a subtle and disciplined route between the arresting
image likely to have the greatest impact and therefore the greatest
potential to change attitudes and the risks of the image being understood
as prurient or voyeuristic. The research highlighted the fact that
unemployment and rough sleeping involves people of all ages, both male and
female, is an issue that is not only confined to London and it made people
see and understand what it meant to individuals. The research underpinning
Hard Times revealed the stories of Big Issue sellers,
showed that they `have lives' and gave them voices.
Hard Times involves research in the conventional sense of
identifying a set of issues and responding to them in ways that are
intended to move the ground of public debate. It is also, however,
practice-led research involving testing out composition, medium and mode
of delivery. A further aspect of the research touches on methodologies of
oral history: selected quotations from interviews with the subjects
accompanied the images. For example Bryan Row, having served as a gunner
in the Royal Navy stated `I have served my country yet some people still
say "get a job" or "tramp". `Among the important findings of the research
are that selling the Big Issue can provide a route out of the
poverty trap: Kim, who had squatted in a derelict hotel, saved the money
for a deposit for a rented flat and by the time she was photographed was
working as a chambermaid and studying accountancy.
References to the research
1. Wenham-Clarke, P. (2011). Project profile: Hard Times. Image.
No. 413. pp. 38-42. (HEI can supply on request)
2. BBC News. (2011). Big Issue photographic exhibition celebrates 20
years. Available from : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-12804251
[Accessed 29 April 2013].
4. BBC South Today. (2011). BBC1. 28 March. [Television]. (HEI can supply
5. Mroz, A. (2011). Street life. Times Higher Education. 3-9
March. pp. 14-15. (HEI can supply on request)
6. The Association of Photographers. (2010). 27th
Photographers awards book. London: Association of Photographers.
Details of the impact
Art has been a tool in campaigns against homelessness by Shelter and
other organisations (Ken Loach, Cathy Come Home, 1966 and The
Crisis Commission, Somerset House March-April 2012). Peter Welch,
Trustee of the Big Issue Foundation had seen Wenham-Clarke's When
Lives Collide (2006) a photographic exhibition (see, for example,
Williams, D. (2006). Horror images put road deaths in focus. The
London Evening Standard. 5 January). As a result he asked
Wenham-Clarke to undertake a series of photographs exploring the lives of
Big Issue sellers. With the financial crash of 2007 sponsorship for
the show evaporated but Wenham-Clarke decided to continue as he had become
intrigued by the research questions posed: fundamentally how to do
something new about the familiar problems of homelessness. Recognising
that the homeless were almost invariably represented on the street,
Wenham-Clarke decided to challenge the stereotypical image by treating Big
Issue sellers as individuals who went `home' at night. He persuaded
the Trustees that he would decide who should be photographed and
how. To this end, he went out to find the vendors in London,
Wolverhampton, Bristol, Birmingham, Bath, Bournemouth, and Shrewsbury. He
talked with them and invited them to participate in the project.
Interviewees had to be willing to tell him about their lives and to take
him to where they were living. Wenham-Clarke also researched in the Big
Issue headquarters at Waterloo identifying individuals and patterns
of experience. The underpinning research was thus essentially
sociological. The research itself comprised the photographic practice and
the interviews which elicited the statements that accompany the images.
Impact was registered in the fact that the research was taken up by St
Martin-in- the-Fields. The church's pioneering work with homeless people
dates back to the First World War when Vicar Dick Sheppard opened the
doors of the church to soldiers leaving for and returning from the front.
The Big Issue was launched on the steps of St Martin's in September
1991. St Martin's work with homeless people continues to provide
specialist support for 200 homeless and vulnerable people every day and
night. Hard Times was exhibited at St Martin's as The Big
Issue 20th anniversary event. Guests at the opening
included Jon Bird, founder of The Big Issue and actor Simon Callow. The
catalogue was designed by Neil Leonard of Arts University Bournemouth
which contributed half the costs of printing. Entry to the exhibition was
free with visitors invited to make a donation.
The nature of the impact was specifically the consequence of the
combination of photographic image and the choice of biographical details
transmitted in texts incorporating the `Subjects' own words informing
viewers of the subjects' recent histories. The empathetic and insightful
visual presentation of the individuals themselves raised awareness of a
major and continuing social problem in an advanced western economy. It
also impacted on the individuals themselves who thus became beneficiaries:
it gave them a sense of empowerment to communicate beyond the street. The
research brought together photographic practice and oral history and thus
impacted on the following communities:
(i) the Big Issue sellers who were photographed and quoted and
who were empowered and inspired.
(ii) the wider community of homeless and jobless for whom a powerful
advocacy was made through visual and verbal media.
(iii) the general public for whom it was an illuminating and educative
experience and who may, as a result, have a more accurate understanding of
the problems of unemployment and homelessness and, most importantly, the
connection between them.
The impact commenced with the opening of the exhibition (3rd
March 2011) and is on-going. The exhibition opened in St Martin in the
Bull Ring, Birmingham (16 September 2011) and was also shown in
Bournemouth Libraries (September 2012) and Inverness Museum and Art
Gallery (2013). Wenham-Clarke was invited to organise a similar exhibition
in Greece where homelessness has for the first time become an issue as a
result of the euro crisis.
Further impact was supported through a campaign by Rewired (a creative
communications agency) who conducted a PR campaign on a pro bono basis for
the Big Issue as part of its charitable and corporate responsibility
programme; to raise regional awareness of the Birmingham Hard Times
exhibition. Coverage was secured on regional television and radio,
including a ten minute interview on BBC WM; further coverage was secured
in regional news websites and trade websites, and in regional print media.
The PR campaign reached over 1.4 million people.
Sources to corroborate the impact
(i) The Association of Photographers. (2010). 27th
Photographers awards book. London:
Association of Photographers. pp. 126-9.
-corroborates claim for diverse media coverage: images from the exhibition
attracted the highly prestigious Gold Documentary Award with free copies
of the book sent to ad agencies and creatives throughout Europe.
(ii) Baty, P. (2011). Campus- Round Up. Times Higher Education.
3-9 March. pp.14-15.
-corroborates claim for diverse media coverage.
(iii) BBC Culture Show (2011). BBC2. 2 June. [Television].
-corroborates claim for diverse media coverage.
(iv) Briggs, J. (ed.) (2011). Street scenes. The Photo-grapher.
Sept/Oct. pp. 26-35.
-corroborates claim for diverse media coverage; magazine for the British
Institute of Professional Photographers.
(v) Burgoyne, P (ed). (2011). Editorial. The Creative Review
Photography Annual. p. 57
- corroborates claim for diverse media coverage. The magazine has a wide
circulation and is the foremost publication for the creative industries.
(vi) Corroborating statement from the Chief Executive, The Big Issue
- corroborates claims for empowerment of Big Issue sellers; advocacy to
the wider community of homelessness and the jobless through visual and
verbal media; public understanding of the connection between unemployment
and homelessness; challenges to stereotypical images of homeless.
(vii) Corroborating statement from the Editor, Image Magazine -
corroborates claim for change in public perception of homelessness;
illuminating experience; challenges to stereotypical images of
(viii) Parker, M. (2011). The Bigger Picture. The Big Issue. 7-13
March. pp. 14-15
- corroborates the claim that sellers were empowered and inspired and
(ix) Corroborating statement from Executive Director, St
Martin-in-the-Fields, Ltd - corroborates claim for number of visitors;
impact of personal quotes from the Big Issue sellers. The statement also
details an unintentional legacy of expanded display space.
(x) Rewired: Case study on Hard Times (Creative communications agency)
-corroborates claims for PR regional campaign reaching 1.4m people.