Addiction and Stigma studies
ARTIST PROJECT STATEMENT “The Misfits”
This triptych of work explores what it means to be marginalised in developed countries by focusing on fringe communities in Canada, the USA and Australia. More specifically the project looks at how the culture of a community can affect the relationship between stigma, disadvantage and quality of life. The work is a creative bridge between my studies in social sciences and a personal response to the experience of stigma in my own life surrounding a loved ones addiction.
This work has been recognized with a Prix Pictet nomination (2012), a Lead Academy Award (2011), the Magnum and Inge Morath Foundation Inge Morath Award (2010), by Reportage by Getty Images and The Sony World Photography Awards (2009), and with an IPA nomination (2008). A limited edition Zine was created, and sold out in 2012 by Editions Bessard with a second edition published in 2018. It has been published and exhibited in numerous international galleries and magazines.
The first series in the triptych was photographed in Vancouver’s Down Town East Side. The ten-‐ block slum is home to a host of social problems including extreme poverty, homelessness, an AIDS rate estimated at over 30%, and the leading cause of death is overdose. The direct proximity to Vancouver’s affluent retail and business district is a constant reminder of the gap between the have’s and the have not’s, creating a culture that is heavily entrenched in the negative stigma, fear and misunderstanding by the average Vancouver citizen.
I was drawn to photograph this community as a gut response to my own experience of living with and loving an addict. I watched someone I loved and respected turn into a self destructive, dysfunctional, sometimes cruel mess. I judged her actions, I thought she was deliberately hurting me, I believed her problem was a matter of choice. Photographing in the Downtown East Side became a catharsis, where I could attempt to understand the problem without the exhaustion of personal attachment. It was also a form of deviant communication about an inner world of pain I was too ashamed to speak about.
My continued obsession for understanding this problem led me to Slab City, a remote squatters community located in the Colorado Desert in California. The same socio economic problems are equally as chronic in this community and are in many ways exacerbated by the remoteness, with poverty stricken, drug addicted or mentally ill residents living with no access to electricity, sewage, water or waste disposal. However, the culture of the community is such that while the residents recognise their disadvantage, they do not feel defined by it. Their remote location means that external stigma associated with their problems doesn’t exist, and the culture within the community is one of tolerance and acceptance.
I connected with this community as it offered me an alternative to the depressing picture of addiction. The addicts at Slab City were people too, living in a vibrant community of other misfits, some of whom were not addicts, but outsiders none the less. This community showed me a way to try and relate to this person in my life as an addict and a human, rather than just mourning the loss of the person I once knew. It also exposed to me the destructive nature of the latent judgement and stigma that I had been internally harbouring.
Nimbin, the final series in the triptych, houses an eclectic community of communes created during the 70’s drug fuelled social experimentations of Australia’s hippy movement. Many of the people drawn to these communes were escaping marginalisation and stigma in the broader community, embracing the anything goes counter culture movement. While Nimbin is renowned in the broader Australian psyche for it’s street drug culture and feral residents, the nature of the community is such that the poor are supported by the rejection of a monetary economy, the Queer community are embraced rather than condemned and drugs are considered mind expanding, not life destroying. Here, people relegated to the margins of society can find a home that not only lacks stigma, but embraces and encourages the core ideologies of their lifestyle.