A 23-year-old from Hanley who was helped by the YMCA to turn his life around has been chosen as the Face of Stoke-on-Trent.
Jozef Clark, from Hanley, was one of 3,550 people who submitted a photograph for The People’s Picture - run by award-winning artist Helen Marshall - who was commissioned to create a piece of artwork as part of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2021.
B Arts worked with the People’s Picture team to procure local photographers, with Natalie Willatt the woman behind the camera to take Jozef's picture at the Stoke-on-Trent YMCA.
Jozef had first turned to the charity at the age of 16, when he started to experience some mental health problems.
In his submission for the project, he said that they had helped him to feel like himself, and "to feel positive with myself."
Following this, Jozef went to Stoke College and completed an NVQ in customer services and team building. He later moved into a house and got a job as second-in-command at a working men’s club.
However, he began to experience mental health issues again, left his job and moved out of his house.
He again turned to the YMCA for support during a difficult time – and they helped to turn his life around.
The photograph of Jozef taken by Natalie Willatt, with the mosaic created by Helen Marshall
Jozef said: “Coming back to the YMCA for the second time, when I was a little bit older, really opened my eyes to the difficult situations people often face. It’s made me want to train to become a mental health support worker.
“I think if you’ve faced some of the situations yourself it can help you to understand. I’m really grateful for the support I’ve been given at the YMCA. I feel it has enabled me to turn my life from negative to positive and I’d like to be able to do the same for other people in the future.
“My life is on the up now. I’ve moved out of the hostel and am in my own place. I’m working at a shop and also as part of a catering team."
Now the image taken by Natalie has been transformed into a mosaic, which is made up of photographs of people from across Stoke-on-Trent.
The 172-square-foot image is now being installed on the electricity substation in Lichfield Street near Hanley Town Hall, where it will remain for 5 years.
Jozef said: “I’m overwhelmed about being chosen as the Face of Stoke-on-Trent. The whole thing has been a great experience and I don’t think it has all sunk in yet.
“Our city is one of the best out there. When I think of Stoke-on-Trent I think of pottery, family, friends, community, and hard work. This city is expanding and growing and I think we’re moving forwards in a good way.”
Artist Helen Marshall reveals the final image to Jozef
Councillor Abi Brown, chair of Stoke-on-Trent’s UK City of Culture 2021 bid and deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “We’re delighted to reveal that Jozef has been chosen to be the Face of Stoke-on-Trent. He embodies the positive progress we’re seeing in Stoke-on-Trent – a city which is on the up and moving forward towards a bright future.
“The Face of Stoke-on-Trent is a fantastic project and part of an inspiring UK City of Culture 2021 bid. It has brought together people from across the city to celebrate everything that makes this a great place to live, work and visit. We’re looking forward to people being able to see the free exhibition, spot faces within the thousands of images that were submitted, and enjoy a fabulous piece of art in the city.”
Artist Helen Marshall said: “Jozef’s face generated strong and passionate feelings in my meetings with the SOTogether Social Impacts Group. Because of this I felt it had that ambiguity that would create the strongest artwork.
"I did not know Jozef’s story, so it is not about merit or worthiness. His face reminds me of a Botticelli painting. I hope he will feel the same way.”
There will also be 20 featured faces from across the city used at the nearby former Harvey’s building on the corner of Tontine Street and Old Hall Street. Information on selected people’s stories will be available, including in a booklet which will be online at faceofsot2021.com.
On Saturday (25 November), a public Face of Stoke-on-Trent celebration event will be held outside the artwork, with residents and visitors given the chance to speak to Jozef and some of the shortlisted ‘faces’, as well as Helen, photographers, representatives from B Arts, the SOTogether Social Impacts Group, and others involved in the project.
A booklet with the featured ‘faces’ and their stories will be available at the event.