Big Issue portraits immortalise Edinburgh sellers

Each of the vendors pictured received a framed print of their image, below. Artist Karen Bates. Photographs: Andrew O'Brien

Each of the vendors pictured received a framed print of their image, below. Artist Karen Bates. Photographs: Andrew O'Brien

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THEY are familiar faces on the streets of any major city, ­selling the magazine which gives them a chance to earn a little money to make ends meet.

Now images of Edinburgh’s Big Issue sellers have been captured in a series of 49 paintings by local artist Karen Bates.

The portraits

The portraits

The project began after Rebecca Pringle, a member of staff at the magazine, won a portrait in a charity raffle and decided to use it to create a piece of art that would honour the men and women who sell the publication on the streets of the capital. The paintings will now be hung in a display in the magazine’s Scottish headquarters on Edinburgh’s Queensferry Street.

Pringle, outreach sales worker at the Big Issue, said: “Last year, I won a portrait in a 
fundraising raffle put on by Souper Saturday – a local community soup kitchen. I got in touch with the artist and asked if she would do something for the Big Issue. She agreed and worked for six months on 
49 beautiful individual portraits of the vendors who were selling the magazine at the time.”

She added: “Two of the vendors who featured in the portraits sadly passed away before it was complete. It seems a fitting tribute to them and all the vendors in Edinburgh who work so hard throughout the year.”

Each vendor received an individual framed print of their portrait, which was created from the photographs taken for their vendor badge.

Tony, a vendor who sells the magazine outside a supermarket on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street, said: “They are absolutely brilliant. It means a lot to me to receive the photo and to see my portrait on the wall of the Big Issue. I want to thank the artist for doing it, for spending so much time on us – on people she doesn’t even know.”

The magazine, which was launched in 1991, is sold to street vendors, who are all either homeless or long-term unemployed, for £1.25, and then sold on by them for £2.50, giving them a chance to earn a legitimate income in a bid to support themselves. UK-wide, there are more than 2,000 Big Issue sellers.

Bates, who manages the Marchmont Gallery and works part-time as an artist, said: “I had agreed to donate a prize of a portrait picture for the raffle. The person who won it turned out to be Rebecca, and she told me she didn’t want it for herself, but for the vendors.

“The piece I created for her now hangs behind the desk in the magazine’s reception and the vendors get such an uplift when they go in every morning to collect their magazines and see their image hanging there. I tried to create the images in uplifting colours.

“One vendor told me that I had created a positive image of him from a picture which was taken at a not very positive time in his life, so it has taken him full circle.”

The artwork was unveiled at the office by Edinburgh Rugby player Michael Allen.

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