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The War On Drugs has lasted more than 45 years and cost over $1 trillion dollars. Everyone from Rolling Stone to the Cato Institute to the Obama White House has concluded it a failure. The root of the failure is this: A nation cannot incarcerate, punish and brutalize people out of their already traumatic lives. Drug use and abuse is not solely a criminal matter; it is mostly a public health issue. People addicted to substances need treatment not cages.

The Trump Administration is cheering on its bipartisan First Step Act (and ignoring that the promised $75million for its rollout is actually only $14million the latest proposed federal budget) but the act focuses mostly on prison reform and not sentencing reform. Sure, improved conditions, better reentry support, early compassionate release and access to feminine hygiene products are all very important, but what about stemming the number of people being sent to federal prison? (Note: The First Step Act applies only to federal prisons which house only 10% of U.S. prisoners.) The Trump administration, especially during Jeff Sessions’ leadership of the Justice Department, has been obsessed with law and order instructing police forces and prosecutors to bring the full weight of the law upon people arrested for drug offenses in particular.

In this context, the Beyond Addiction: Reframing Recovery photography exhibition, curated by Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin, comes at the right time. See a host of images and contexts at the dedicated website Reframing Recovery. Instead of prisons, the show focuses on “the ways people have rebuilt their lives: reconnecting with their families, finding rewarding work, developing meaningful relationships with partners, peers, and others who offer support,” say Stellin and MacIndoe.

There are approximately 23 million people in the U.S. who have successfully resolved a problem with drugs or alcohol, but do we see their collapse more than their rise? Do we see their struggles more than their triumphs? I’d say the focus too often tends to be on the suffering. This exhibition shines a light on living, not just on a time of life affected by drugs. This exhibition shines a light not on life’s dark moments but on all the light and comparative lightness that former users create for themselves.

Stellin and MacIndoe also recognize the contributions of treatment providers and harm reduction services.

“Recovery is rarely a solo journey and it usually involves setbacks and hurdles, but the more we talk about it, share ideas, and embrace different paths, the more people will find their way,” they say.

It’s a large exhibition. It’s a varied exhibition. It’s optimistic. Stellin, MacIndoe and the artists are part of “a growing movement working to offer examples of success and hope to those still struggling with addiction” and, in that sense, it’s an important exhibition.




Many of the contributing artists have personal experience with addiction and recovery, while others have worked closely with the people whose stories they documented. Artists include Nina Berman, Allan Clear, John Donadeo, Yannick Fornacciari, Tony Fouhse, Paul Gorman, John Linder, Luceo, Josh Meltzer, Jackie Neale and Neil Sneddon.

Nina Berman: An autobiography of Miss Wish. A multi-dimensional collaborative work focusing on the story of one woman and the intersection of sexual trauma, mental illness, addiction, and recovery.

Allan Clear: Lower East Side Needle Exchange. Photos of people, events, activism, and art from this community center at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s.

John Donadeo: Family Ties. Portraits of John’s extended family and friends exploring the socioeconomic and familial factors that impact addiction and recovery. 

Yannick Fornacciari: Heroin Days. Images and text juxtaposing Yannick’s first day on methadone with how he felt after a year of treatment.

Tony Fouhse: Live Through This. Photos of a young woman Tony met who asked for help getting into a rehab program, which enabled her to escape life on the street.

Paul Gorman: Rip and Run. Spoken word pieces and images commenting on Paul’s past drug use and his life now in recovery.

John Linder: Art Therapy. Artwork John created in a program that helps participants use art as part of a therapeutic process to address drug and alcohol problems.

Luceo: Harm Reductionists. Photos of supporters of the harm reduction movement paired with handwritten responses to question prompts.

Graham MacIndoe: Thank You for Sharing. Instagram and Facebook posts reflecting on Graham’s addiction, incarceration, and recovery, which have inspired others to share their experiences as well.

Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin: Re-Entry & Recovery. Portraits and interviews with people navigating life after addiction and incarceration, from a larger series documenting stories of recovery.

Josh MeltzerDopesick—Agents of Change. Portraits of treatment providers, healthcare workers, activists, and counselors shot for Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, by Beth Macy.

Jackie Neale: Common Ground Tacony. A cyanotype portrait banner of Richard, who tends to a garden in the Tacony neighborhood of North Philadelphia as part of his recovery from addiction. 

Neil Sneddon: Developing Recovery. Photos taken by clients Neil asked to document the people, places, and things they identified as meaningful for their recovery.




Beyond Addiction: Reframing Recovery is curated by Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin. MacIndoe is a photographer and assistant professor at Parsons. Stellin, reporter and adjunct professor in the Journalism + Design department at The New School, recently completed a masters in public health at Columbia University. They have collaborated on various projects combining interviews and photography, including exhibitions, talks, and a memoir documenting Graham’s addiction, incarceration, and recovery.


See a host of images and contexts at the dedicated website Reframing Recovery.

Location: Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, Parsons School of Design, The New School 66 Fifth Ave. @ 13th St., New York City

Dates: April 6-21, 2019

Gallery hours: Open daily 12:00–6:00 p.m. and Thurs. until 8:00 p.m.

Opening reception and panel discussion: Tues. April 9

5:30 – 6:30 p.m. reception and exhibition viewing

6:30 – 8:00 p.m. panel discussion


So great, and so important, to see the Participatory Defense movement expanding to, and empowering within, more U.S. cities.

Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project

Philadelphia has to be one of the most exciting cities in the country when it comes to community power challenging the daily operations of the courts. Philadelphia has elected a civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner as their next District Attorney, has a head of the Public Defender Office Keir Bradford-Grey who is committed to building community support for those facing court, and the people are taking to the streets for Meek Mill. Changes are happening in Philly that may be a blue print for the rest of the country.

And now, Philadelphia is starting participatory defense. Read this piece in the Philadelphia Citizen “Ideas We Should Steal: Participatory Defense” to see how the community is well-positioned to take the methodology to new heights.

phillyflier(Poster from the first participatory defense forum in Philadelphia.)

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Clearcut at the US/Canada border.

After a long walk in the woods, I am back in society and negotiating all the quickening of pace that the return brought with it. I finished the Pacific Crest Trail on October 1st and, quite frankly, it has taken the best part of a month to get my head straight.

I’ll be posting more sporadically on Prison Photography as I pursue other travel and research into the new year. Less quantity, more quality is my goal over the next 12 months. Into 2017, there’s a few other projects in the works. Thanks for being here.

My take-aways from the trail? People are good; the generosity of strangers is astounding; we’re all in this together. It was a great privilege to slow down and take the extended break–it helped me see what’s important and must be pursued and, on the other side of that coin, what stuff I can leave behind.

Hope you all had lovely summers and the autumn is shaping up nicely for you.


I’m away from the computer so I write long hand. My energies each day dictate how straight I can get my thoughts. I’m just trying to pin down honest observations of the Pacific Crest Trail. Outside Online is publishing the dispatches fortnightly.

So far I’ve written about my motivations: Why Would Anyone Hike the PCT? and about how I shredded my feet with blisters on blisters: How To Ruin Your PCT Hike on the First Day.

I’m one month in and at Mile 454 in Agua Dulce, California. Just 2,196 to the Canadian border.

As well as writing on real paper, I’m drawing on real paper too (see above). About one sketch a day. You can follow my daily progress on my Instah: @petebrook. It’s surprising how much of this National Scenic Trail–this wilderness–is covered by cellphone service.

I’m posting all the sketches. Plus photos of where I source water (#petesnewwater) and the views from where I poo outdoors (#petesnewpoop). Other things too.

From a borrowed computer, Pete.


Maria Maldonado cries hugging Ethan Arbelo, 12, as he transitions into death on July, 3, 2014, in Lehigh Acres, Fla. “In those last minutes when you know your son is taking those last breaths, all you’re doing is praying for death for you too because you can’t imagine life without your baby,” Maria said.


I was recently asked by EyeEm to select a neat piece of storytelling I’d seen in the past year or so. I thought back to Dania Maxwell‘s piece Little Man.

Here’s what I wrote.

One story from the last year that really caught my eye was Dania Maxwell’s Little Man, the story of Ethan Arbelo, who was ten when doctors diagnosed him with terminal brain cancer. This is the story of Ethan’s journey from boy to young man and his pursuit of happiness along the way.

Stories, particularly extended news stories or human interests profiles of individuals with terminal diagnoses are relatively common, but here Maxwell found in Arbelo a subject that really took the message, the impact and the emotion of the work to a new level.


Reggie Iacono, right, helps Ethan Arbelo, 12, choose a poster for his bedroom while out for a boys’ day on February 21, 2014 in Fort Myers, Fla. Reggie, the son of one of Maria’s friends, moved in with Maria and Ethan in January to act as Ethan’s caregiver for a few months while Maria was back at work.

Arbelo was between childhood and adulthood and so his bucket list was a hotchpotch of thingssome very predictable and others very surprising. For example, the photo of the woman kissing him as an 11-year-old is seriously dicey, but then you must remember that the things we see in the photos are things Ethan had discussed with his mother beforehand. Some dying wishes could be attained and others not.


Ethan Arbelo, 11, kisses Ashley Schroeder at a mud park named, The Redneck Yacht Club on May 25, 2013, in Punta Gorda, Fla. Ethan’s mom took him to the mud park as a compromise after Ethan had asked for a stripper for his 12th birthday. It was the first time Ethan had kissed a girl. “It felt like ice cream melting on my tongue,” he said.

Furthermore, over the course of the images we see the changes in Ethan’s body; we witness his death in pictures. But in each frame his personality bursts through. The story in each frame trumps the desperate circumstances Ethan is in. In that sense, Maxwell has achieved what all good photography should attempt to doto really capture the subject’s spirit. Maxwell does this without trivializing, or patronizing, or sugarcoating.

The images are made in the spirit that Ethan wanted to live out his life; they’re optimistic and try to hone in on the common optimism we all surely have.


Two days after Ethan Arbelo died, Maria Maldonado receives a tattoo of a drawing Ethan made with their initials just before losing movement in his hands, at Ink Cafe on July 5, 2014, in Cape Coral, Fla. “This way he is always with me,” Maria said.


I think our future will be better if we start to agree as a community what storytelling is. It seems now that the term storytelling is a descriptor for everything. The term has been diluted. Are casual Instagrammers storytellers? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Is Humans Of New York storytelling? Yes, but the captions do the telling and the photos are not needed. Are selfies storytelling? What about still portraits? Storytelling has become a synonym of too many things to the point I don’t know if we’re all on the same page. For me, this is to storytellers’ and audiences’ detriment.

I’d like to see more long term projects and deep reporting and less throw away image making. I’d prefer one year long well-researched story than 3 or 4 in a year. I want to see huge silences on photographers’ social media, because then I know (I hope?!) they’re away reporting. Let’s make images to make stories visible, not just to feed the channels and try to stay visible ourselves.


I think the GIF, and to a degree the looped video have huge untapped potential for telling stories in a clever way. Brandon Tauszik’s Tapered Throne is the best example I’ve seen of GIFs being used for documentary purposes but there’s all sorts of applications. Get over cat GIFs and memes and there’s a lot to be made, told and discovered.


Taylor Glascock’s feature of Little Man on Vantage: Dying Couldn’t Stop Ethan From Living.

Read the selections of four other photo editors much more expert than I: 5 Leading Photo Editors on the Most Powerful Storytelling Today

CAS_PeteBrook3.10 V5 copy


Taj Mahal and train in Agra, 1983. Credit Steve McCurry

I had a disagreement with a friend last week about whether Teju Cole writes well about photography. I think he does. My friend thinks he’s a very talented writer and critic but much prefers Cole’s books above his criticism. We agreed to disagree and left it at that.

I don’t know what the final verdict on Cole will be, but I sure did enjoy his skewering of Steve McCurry and Coldplay—bland, bland men—in a single article. For me, it only strengthens the argument that he’s a good writer on photography.

From A Too-Perfect Picture

In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiar­ity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.

[McCurry’s] photographs in “India,” all taken in the last 40 years, are popular in part because they evoke an earlier time in Indian history, as well as old ideas of what photographs of Indians should look like, what the accouterments of their lives should be: umbrellas, looms, sewing machines; not laptops, wireless printers, escalators.


The song [Hymn for the Weekend] is typical Coldplay, written for vague uplift but resistant to sense (“You said, ‘Drink from me, drink from me’/When I was so thirsty/Poured on a symphony/Now I just can’t get enough”). […] The video is a kind of exotification bingo, and almost like a live-action version of Steve McCurry’s vision: peacocks, holy men, painted children, incense. Almost nothing in the video allows true contemporaneity to Indians. They seem to have been placed there as a colorful backdrop to the fantasies of Western visitors.

It’s not so much the point that McCurry is old-hat, but that the point is made with so much panache. If I’d written such luscious take downs, I’d cart myself into retirement, all happy-like. Good stuff.

Cole, however, has other ideas. He’s not opposed to outsiders taking photos of India. He points out that Mary Ellen Mark made telling portraits of prostitutes in Mumbai which presented, with a new sensibility and focus, an ignored community.


Kemps Corner, Mumbai, 1989. Credit Succession Raghubir Singh

Ultimately, the article is a celebration of Raghubir Singh, who is the best example of an Indian photographing India. The article is Cole’s call for us to (permanently?) redirect (all?) our energies from the photographs of McCurry and those of every fetishizing (white) (usually male) photographer who has mimicked McCurry, toward the photography of practitioners such as Singh and other cracking Indian photographers. Cole names them: Ketaki Sheth, Sooni Taraporevala, Raghu Rai and Richard and Pablo Bartholomew.

I mean, really, in a world replete with images made by folks in every corner of the globe, is there any defense for the space taken up by McCurry?

Read A Too-Perfect Picture


“Being calm in pink and blue will deliver us from evil. Carefully-selected colour swatches, if only some paint-God would reveal itself, are the antidote to war, global warming and bigotry.”

Last week, I went all Beautiful Mind on the Pantone Colour of the Year announcement, specifically its 55-second video accompanying the announcement. Here’s my rant.


I put together a play-by-play of the vid. It was excruciating work. But the world needed to know.

Read the full piece: The Pantone Color of the Year is a Big Steaming Pile of Turd. 



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