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Blackcurrant Angels

Samples of Society has taken its place in the Gorilla Arthouse, nestled alongside poetry and perfume. The animations - a collection of stories from the world’s homeless community - were created by Hal Samples, Tall Mammals and Minnow Mountain. This is the story of how the stories found a new home in Gorilla Arthouse.

Some years back, photographer Hal Samples was out walking the streets of Dallas, when he was approached by a homeless man. He asked to look after Hal’s car, but Hal suggested they go for something to eat instead. As their conversation went on, it was clear how educated the man was; how full of ideas. Hal asked him if he could take on any superpower, what would it be?

“I just want the power of visibility. People walk past me all the time and they don’t see me.”

This really had an effect on Hal. He carried on having conversations with people on the streets and as he did, everything that had seemed to matter previously - the car he drove, the job he had - were all stripped away. “Their currency was their word,” he said. And so - he did something to get those words out there. Through photography and videography, he began documenting his homeless friends and their takes on life - their thoughts, dreams, fears and ideas. And with that, Samples of Society was created to help change perceptions of the homeless.

When Simon Constantine, Gorilla Perfume’s Head Perfumer, heard the stories and saw the films, he was moved into creating a perfume to represent the characters Hal met, and the many more out there, whose words were yet unheard. Blackcurrant Angel is one way of giving them not just a voice, but that power of visibility that they so deserve.

Half of the Blackcurrant Angels have passed away now, but we hope their words - their knowledgeable, magical, provoking, inspirational words - can live on, and touch everyone as much as they have touched us.

SCRAP IRON

“I met Scrap Iron at a time when I’d just lost a friend of mine called Bill. Bill was actually a guardian of mine when I was a child and my parents were going through a divorce - he offered his home to me. Twenty years later, I’m working with homeless people and I didn’t realise that one of them was actually Bill until my mum saw some of the photos I’d taken. It all came back to me. I got to working with him, got him an apartment, and then there was a tragic accident. He was run over by a truck when he was sleeping in a ‘safe haven’. He never got to move into that apartment.  

And then Scrap Iron came along. He was a breath of fresh air, with his musicianship, telling me he had something to offer the world. He just wanted his music to be out there, and asked if there was any way I could get him some microphones. So the baton was passed - I couldn’t do anything for Bill because he was gone, but those efforts were shifted over to helping Scrap Iron. We had a show and it was amazing: he opened for the Black Angels at the Granada Theatre in Dallas, in front of 400 people. Not long after that amazing night, he got pneumonia. He passed away in the hospital. So that baton then got passed over to Nate…”

SAN FRAN NATE

“I met Nate in San Francisco. He was standing on the corner drinking a cup of coffee with a really funny shirt - a 1950s gasoline attendant holding a pump, which read ‘I have gas’. So my opening question to him was, “where can I get that shirt?!”. He wanted to be my tour guide. He wanted to take me all kinds of cool places in San Francisco that were free - and he was just offering himself. He was very sweet-natured.

I asked him if I could start videoing him for the project I was working on, so I went back and visited him eight or nine times over the next few years. He had a dream and a vision for himself - he wanted to be a film critic. So we saw Snakes on a Plane and decided that would be a good place to start his film criticism. Then… we lost him.”

NEW YORK

“I’d already met New York when I was in Dallas but was reunited back with him, and he told me to bring my camera. The cool thing about New York was that he was volunteering his time, doing research at the library and working with other homelessness organisations, as well as other homeless friends, in a couple of different ways. He’d built his own homeless shelter out of four or five tents so he had space if people didn’t want to stay in the large holding gymnasiums, which can be an issue for people with mental illness. He provided a space off the grid, with food, where people weren’t going to be cold. And I really took to him for his efforts in doing that. Later I learned that he was also offering research to the council on how other cities were providing solutions and care for the homeless, that could be duplicated for our city, and I was really impressed with that, too. He did his time, reunited with his family and ended up getting married - and now he’s doing well.”

BRUCE THE DIAMOND

“I met Bruce when I was on tour with The Black Keys and The Black Angels. There was plenty of time when I wasn’t needed so I could go out and meet new friends in these major metropolitan cities - often artistic, CBGB type areas - and when they went back on tour, they’d play the same venues, so I could meet with these people again. And there was a guy named Bruce in Seattle. What I liked most about him was when I asked the question: ‘If you could be anyone in the world, who would it be?’ He knew his answer, and quickly said: ‘Me. I want to be Bruce, no one else.’ I thought he would fit nicely with the other guys I’d worked with - he was a different kind of archetype.  There are different things you can take away from all four of them.”

Watch the films and get inspired by the words of our Blackcurrant Angels on our Samples of Society playlist.

Samples of Society: Scrap Iron

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