Monday, 27 May 2013

'Ice cream and Aesop' and the Truth about Jimmy

In 2010 I took a candid photograph of a homeless man known to the folk of Newcastle as 'Homeless Jimmy'. Little did I know at the time the impact this photograph would have on myself and others.

See the original photo on flickr by clicking here  © Anthony Dorman

I have written about my brief experiences with 'Jimmy' since taking that first image in earlier posts including the post I wrote about his reported death. Last summer I took a quick series of photographs of 'Jimmy' whilst walking through Newcastle, shortly after I took these images I went on my honeymoon with my new wife Rachael. On my return I was alerted by a friend that there were numerous reports of 'Jimmy's death circulating around facebook and local forums connected to the daily life of the city. 

See the original image on flickr by clicking here © Anthony Dorman

I posted about his death and was amazed by the kind words of strangers who emailed me with their memories of 'Jimmy', seeing him as one of life's lost and gentle souls . Before long rumours began to circulate mentioning sightings of him back on the streets and doubt spread over me that I had posted something untrue. As mentioned earlier in some of my posts, I took to the streets in search of the truth, speaking with homeless charities and numerous homeless people who knew him. After a few weeks of searching and no concrete evidence of his death I received an email, and then a phone call from 'Jimmy's sister, and the story of this man was told to me. The man known as 'Jimmy' was born Euan McLachlan on 23rd of March 1954, and known to his friends and family as Ian. After a series of sad events in his life as a young man Ian slowly began to turn his back on everything and everyone he knew, suffering from mental illness, he ended up on the streets. I would like to point out that his family and loved ones tried continuously to get him off the streets; concerned about his welfare. As many people in Newcastle will testify Ian simply wanted to be alone, never asking for help from anyone, even the homeless charity workers in Newcastle knew of him, but nothing about him. Ian's family would check a facebook page dedicated to him and communicate with the local police to confirm his whereabouts and well being. When they saw the posts mentioning his death they reported him missing to the police. Ian had been found in Benton suffering after the severe weather the city experienced last summer and was taken to hospital. Sadly his condition was serious and he passed away in hospital on 20th July 2012 as an unknown homeless man. Because of complicated legal issues connected with his identification I have been unable to post this information until now. I have met with Ian's sister and spoken numerous times with her on the phone regarding her brother, his life and tragic passing. I am happy to have discovered that my photographs gave her comfort and have received her blessing to post about her brother.

See my 'Homeless' set on flickr by clicking here © Anthony Dorman

Since taking the initial photographs of Ian I have been described as a 'Homeless Photographer' which is odd, as it is a tiny part of what I do, but does now have some truth in the description. I have met and photographed a number of diverse and, nearly always, friendly homeless people on the streets of Newcastle; many of them now know me by name and as 'the lad with the camera'. My photographs of homeless people were discovered online by author Keir McCabe  who contacted me about producing a cover for his book 'Ice Cream and Aesop'. Keir once homeless himself has managed to turn his life around, no longer homeless he has written his novel based on the hardship's of homeless life. Here is a synopsis of the novel in Keir's words;
"Solomon McGrath is 29 years old, homeless, and living on the former grounds of Jacobs Ice Cream; a haven for the Rough Sleepers and Street Drinkers of a small town. Based on real events, Ice Cream & Aesop is Solomon’s story; the story of one man’s descent into the gutter, told through the fables of Aesop."
Keir asked me if I could provide him with a striking image of a homeless man eating ice cream. 'Yes', I agreed thinking that this could be a great image. The difficulty of the brief soon became apparent; first I have to find someone homeless with a striking face, then they need to willingly have their photograph taken eating an ice cream. Days of searching the streets looking for the right face and person were flying by with no results. Then one day I walked passed Craig sitting near Central Station and I wondered if he could be 'the one'. I explained what I was doing and he agreed to have a test photo taken to send to Keir and that if suitable I would find him again to take the book cover image.

See the original image on flickr by clicking here © Anthony Dorman

 After Keir agreed that Craig was right for the image I spent another couple of days searching for him again, without luck. After chatting with Debbie 'Newcastle's best known Big Issue Seller' she told me where and when to find him. She was spot on, and Craig and I set off to buy an ice cream and take his photo. Craig has been living 'mostly on' and off the streets for the last 20 years, he is quiet and humble, and after chatting told me a bit about his life which echoed Ian's story. For his time, I bought him food and cigarettes as agreed and have promised to look after him whenever I see him.

Here is the link to 'Ice Cream and Aesop' by Keir McCabe featuring my portrait of Craig
The novel is available in Kindle eBook form for free from Monday 27th May 2013 to Friday 31st May 2013.

I believe that I would never have had the opportunity to produce a book cover like this without taking my initial photograph of Ian/'Jimmy'. I also believe that I have made new friends like Joe and Craig who I will look out for on the streets and try and help them the best I can. I know that my photographs of Ian helped his family with their bereavement and find Keir's novel to be a testament to the human spirit, hope and achievement.

To Ian: I hope that you are looking down on all of these positive connections. By being photographed as you were (free, and your own man) you have had a positive impact on my life and how I see the world. You were a gentle soul and our city is a lesser place without you.

connect with me via    facebook  twitter


  1. This is good stuff. There is always a story. We all have one, and finding out the story of others is always a surprise. But whats magical about stories is that they are pathways along which others may follow, and sometimes one becomes part of the story too, as you have done.

    Small point, not a criticism, more an observation - my preference is 'people who are homeless' rather than 'homeless people' - just to simply put their humanity first rather than their lack of domestic appliances!

    We can never help everyone in need, but simply helping one person can make a huge difference, and often also to many other connected lives we may be unaware of.

    Thanks for taking the time to make a difference, and for writing this.

  2. I do wonder what Ian/'Jimmy' looked like as a younger man, I wish I knew more about him (I'm of the belief we live-on via living memory), and I wish we as a city could do something to commemorate him so he's always a permanent part of Newcastle.

  3. Thanks for your work. I blogged the Chronicle piece.
    With the Metro off after about five that night, I guess he must have walked back, drenched, to sleep in a sodden patch of land. Pity it took the Chronicle so long to acknowledge it and then refer to him as 'Tyneside's most famous homeless man.' Ah well...

    1. Hi Frank, I think the press were hampered by not knowing Ian's name and therefore reluctant to publish anything. I do agree though that the article in the Chronicle was quite poorly written and full of strange errors.