It’s obvious when you’re looking at a piece of work whether it should be described as a labour of love. This is one such personal project, that was begun in 2009 by Marksteen Adamson, and is culminating in an exhibition currently on at ‘The Wilson’ in Cheltenham. ‘Behold The Man’ is the title given to the project, an honest and hopeful look at the situation of Alan Dainton, a rough sleeper in Cheltenham who is battling addiction.
Marksteen is a creative consultant and has won many awards at home and abroad. His agency ASHA is ranked in Design Week’s Top 100 as one of the most awarded agencies in the UK. Aside from his exceptional track record in agencies Marksteen also has some extensive projects and initiatives to his name (including The Cheltenham Design Festival). In 2004 he founded The Big Cold Turkey Foundation, supporting organisations actively concerned with youth at risk from drugs and alcohol.
I caught up with Marksteen to find out more about ‘Behold The Man’…
Sadly homelessness and substance addiction is a regular sight in our cities. Sum up why you felt Alan’s was a story that needed to be told?
There is no silver bullet to this problem, but I wanted to explore the different avenues to see where my energy should be focused around this issue in the future. There is a time and place for ‘Sustination’, but its very short term. ‘Intervention’ relies very much on the individual being willing, so that’s not always an option, but ‘Prevention’ should be on the top of our list of priorities if we want to avoid an epidemic in the future. The problem with focussing on ‘Prevention’ is that, like climate change, it’s not tangible, because it hasn’t happened yet, and so therefore its hard to raise money, help people understand, or get support. People like to give to and support things they can see. It’s tragic really, because preventing a kid from going down this route will save the government tens of thousands of pounds a year per individual.
You started this project – or the relationship that lead to it – back in 2009. That’s a long time ago! Is ‘Behold The Man’ a one off or do you see yourself doing other self-initiated projects for ‘The Big Cold Turkey’ charity?
I’ve always had other personal projects going on like the School project in Tanzania, The Big Cold Turkey Foundation, Cheltenham Design Festival, setting up Kings community Café, or teaching young people to take better photos. I don’t think I could do my day job without these things ticking away in the background. It’s a nice change to have projects where I’m the only client.
Has Alan seen the exhibition, and if so, do you know what he thinks of it?
Yes, Alan has seen the exhibition and he loved it. He also got the fist copy of the signed and numbered limited edition book. He loved that too, and has always said the “even if it only helps one kid, telling my story will be worth it”
It’s obvious by the level of excellence and quality of finish that a lot of time and love (&money) has gone into ‘Behold The Man’ – how did you make it all happen?
I had an initial idea about what I wanted the book to be; layout, images and content and different papers and embossing. I wanted it to be slightly over the top, to clash with the subject matter. It was a deliberate attempt at making you feel slightly uncomfortable that so much effort and quality was devoted to what most people would consider to be a hopeless case of addiction, homelessness and total disregard for society. I wanted to make something beautiful out of the dirt and chaos of Alan’s world.
I wanted to flip ‘significance’. I wanted to confront our prejudices and make the ‘in-significant – significant’, and the perceived ‘significant – in-significant’ when experiencing the large portraits of Alan and the quality of the book. I wanted people to realise that we are all the same and we are all capable of being in that situation, had we had a different start in life. The difference is the choices we have made. Some of us just made better choices. Scott McGuffy, Simon Dryland and Chris Greenwood also worked tirelessly with me on design, paper selection and general quality standards. Andy at Severn Print was also instrumental in making the print happen the way it did. We got a lot of support from him. It was not and easy print job! Also, Hannah, our super project manager worked really hard managing all the suppliers, timelines and quotes. The ASHA team have been an amazing support.
If you’d like to support the work of the Cheltenham YMCA which helps homeless young people you can purchase the book, postcards and posters on The Big Cold Turkey site, here.
You can watch the 30 minute film that accompanies the book here – It contains scenes of drug-taking that some viewers might find upsetting.