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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.

 

 

ARTISTS

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.

 

 

BIOS

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.

DETAILS

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

 

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13- distribution

Photographer Tony Fouhse photographed his hometown of Ottawa. Then he made a newspaper of his images and gave all 2,000 of them away for free. The project is called Official Ottawa.

I dig Fouhse’s images of politics, power, pomp and circumstance in Canada’s capital. The concept was great, the execution fine and the distribution in cafes and at truck-stops brings a smile to my face.

FREE FOTOGRAFY WILL SET YOU FREE!

I interviewed Tony about the project for Vantage in a piece titled Control and Containment in the Canadian Capital.

About Ottawa, Fouhse says:

“There is a kind of pervasive fear that percolates through the city. Not a fear of getting mugged or anything, rather, a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Workers here seem to know which side of their bread is buttered and who is buttering it; they certainly wouldn’t want to put their pensions at risk. An atmosphere like that dampers a lot of healthy thinking and questioning and certainly precludes action.”

Read Control and Containment in the Canadian Capital.

01- limo

02-west block

04-National Firefighters Memorial Service

05-memorial

06-special event

07-Govt signage

09-Parliament Hill with Leopard tank

10-Juno

11-P Hill security checkpoint

12-roadblock

Christina Riley 'Back To Me'

It is, unfortunately, rare that we see photography about mental illness in which the protagonist is also the creator. Christina Riley’s Back To Me bucks the trend.

Back To Me is a visual dip into a disorienting episode Riley experienced when she briefly absconded from her medication routine. She was without anchor and the photographs trace her imperiled, but thankfully not fatal, journey before returning to a mental state she could claim as her own; before she found a way back to herself.

Simultaneously, Riley experienced euphoria and suicidal thoughts. Freewheeling brain chemistry forced her into an escape and explore mode, but the exhilaration was not something she could control. She describes being outside of herself and of living another person’s experience.

The facts of the episode are not immediately apparent from the grainy images alone. There’s a looming threat but as the images vacillate between self-portraits and landscapes of unidentified places, it’s difficult to figure out the source of the threat. Perhaps the two are one and the same?

Clearly something is not right, but it is only a brief text on the book’s penultimate page that contextualises Riley’s solitary portraits amid the dark, between the light snow and at the side of unknown roads.

Riley writes:

I remember driving down Highway 1 south feeling almost certain I wouldn’t return. The bottle of wine I planned to drink before jumping was sitting in the cup-holder alongside a bottle of Ativan and my camera. I cried the whole way to the bridge feeling guilt already for what I hadn’t yet done. I stepped out of my car to a cold, foggy blowing sky. But through all that, stars. I stood there in the darkness and they spoke to me. They were just for me and their message was clear.

It would kill him.

Riley somehow in the swirl of illogic and depression Riley saw the effect her suicide would have on a loved one. She didn’t jump, she turned back. What part did photographs play in the decision? Any at all? Are these photographs saving therapy? Or are they mere documentation? That this remains unclear is one of the strengths of this unique book.

Tony Fouhse, publisher at Straylight Press, says, “One way she grounded herself during this period of madness was by taking photos of herself and the strange world of mania and depression, euphoria and delusion, she found herself in.”

So, Back To Me is part memoir, part self-warning but mostly self-love. Riley came through it and a significant part of understanding and healing has been the sequencing and production of the book. She has found use — a secondary audience, if you will — for images and moments that at the time of making were only for her.

I wanted to ask Riley about that time and the times since, so I emailed a few questions.

Scroll down for the Q&A

Christina Riley 'Back To Me'

Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): Describe your life and thoughts leading up to this episode of instability.

Christina Riley (CR): Throughout my life I have struggled with a mood disorder. At ten-years-old I started behaving extremely unpredictably. It came out of nowhere. My parents had no idea what was going on, until after attempting suicide twice, I was hospitalized for a year. I walked out of there at age 14 with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Leading up to the most recent episode shown in Back To Me I was feeling pretty level (so I thought). It lead me to believe I was misdiagnosed, so I took it upon myself to go off of my medication. I remember my mind racing with ideas. I had endless energy. The world revolved around me. My self-confidence and sexuality was inflated. Things couldn’t get better. Then suddenly I was convinced I was in love with someone else. Then there was no stopping me. I thought my behavior was coming from a genuine place. I didn’t know I was sick.

I was launched into the world you see in Back To Me.

PP: Between which dates do you identify the episode? And between which dates were you making photographs.

CR: It’s all such a haze but I think the episode began in November 2011 and got very serious pretty quick. It feels like it was an eternity and somehow a dream. Time did not exist. I would say that the entire episode — including the slow transition into my “normal” self — lasted a year-and-a-half or something.

Christina Riley 'Back To Me'

I began taking the pictures around December 2011 as things were becoming more intense and I was losing control. I really had an overwhelming feeling that it had to be photographed, like it felt somehow crucial to my existence. I would be in those moments of living in that other world, and there was no question. I stopped photographing it pretty much when I came around to seeing that I was better – that things were better. I could see it in the pictures and knew it was done.

PP: How, with what, and/or why did you come out the other side of the episode?

CR: It took a lot of will power, medication, therapy and support from family and friends to get here. Everything comes to an end, so it was inevitable one way or another. I’m just happy I didn’t kill myself. I came out of this a better, more secure person.

PP: You’ve said it was like someone else taking photographs.

CR: It’s so hard to explain. It was kind of a compulsion, so I guess it sort of feels like the illness took the pictures. But at the same time, looking back, I know it was part of me too, which makes sense considering the illness will always be a part of me, healthy or not. I just wasn’t with it enough to know what was really happening or to make logical decisions which makes me feel like it was completely out of my control.

PP: Do words (in this interview) or images (in the book) manage to reflect the emotion and psychology of the time?

CR: I don’t think it would be possible for me to convey what it felt like any better than with the photographs in the book.

The photographs in Back To Me are a true moment captured in an unreal time. I’ve never expressed myself or the illness in such a pure way. Even though there was stuff you don’t see happening in the time surrounding the pictures, I believe that each one encompasses how it felt as a whole.

Christina Riley 'Back To Me'

PP: You say you’re grateful for the episode. It seems like it was a learning experience. Is this a fair characterization? Are the photographs key to that? In other words, are the photographs a valuable product from a less than ideal time? Would your view of that time be different if you had made no photographs and you had no book?

CR: Photographing this time in my life helped me more than anything else. I can’t imagine living through that without visual proof of it. It all felt so unreal that I wouldn’t know what to believe without them. I would feel so lost. It’s hard sometimes for me to look at the book because I can feel everything again. But it’s good for me. I know I don’t want to go there again because of it. I’m thankful because in the end, the pictures really have brought me to a better, more stable and aware place.

The book Back To Me is one of the most important things I have ever done. It is proof that I have an illness that I have to take care of. It is proof that I can get through it. It is a definite end to a crazy chapter in my life.

PP: Anything else you’d like to add?

CR: Many people think mental illness is a relentless hard slog against challenges that are unrewarding. But to the contrary, I feel that bipolar disorder has brought more positivity to my life than negativity. It has been hard, but it has made me a stronger, more accepting and maybe a more interesting person.

Without Straylight Press / Tony Fouhse, I feel my voice – my experience, which I believe so many people can relate to, would be lost.

PP: Thanks Christina.

CR: Thank you, Pete.

Christina Riley 'Back To Me'

REVIEWS ELSEWHERE

Colin Pantall says, “Straylight, a publisher which makes direct books with direct themes. Straylight is kind of rough and ready but it hits the spot and is much more than a decorative publisher. It makes books about things that matter. And it publishes people who don’t get published elsewhere.”

Timothy Archibald says, “A quiet story, told in your ear. Not sad, not tragic at first glance. No high drama. It feels like introspection. Just the data, shared by the storyteller as if it happened to someone else. Rich with color, rich with grain, warm and tangible- not like you are drugged, but just like you are very tired, but your senses are working overtime.”

GO HERE!

Christina Riley is a Canadian photographer living in California. She makes music with Burnt Palms.

Back To Me is available through Straylight Press.

‘Steph’ © Tony Foushe

There’s two things I hope you’ll carry away from this post. Firstly, the importance of Live Through This a photo series resulting from a-two year collaboration between Tony Fouhse and Stephanie. Secondly, that Tony has established  Straylight Press to get limited-edition books and zines in the hands of photo-lovers. Live Through This is Straylight’s first publication.

To regular readers, Tony Fouhse will not be a new name. I’ve always admired Tony’s honest, weekly updates about his ongoing work, emotions and process. In my capacity as a Wired.com blogger, I recommended his blog drool as a top read.

LIVE THROUGH THIS

Four years ago, Tony began shooting USER, portraits of crack and heroin addicts on a single Ottawa city block. During that time, he met Stephanie, noticed something different about her, and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” She said she wanted help getting clean.

From that point it’s a long story of great-strides, trauma, dope sickness, humour, sunlight and friendship. Often photographers may distance themselves from the world by saying they’re mere observers. In the case of photojournalism, so-called objectivity sometimes excuses camera-persons from getting involved in even small practical ways to help those they photograph.

Tony is not a photojournalist and he is no hero either; he’s a guy that offered to help someone whose needs were greater than most. If you want to venture into the drool archives, Tony has told the story in great detail. Alternatively, Tony wrote a five-part series about his and Steph’s journey for the ever-excellent NPAC blog [one, two, three, four, five].

In December, Steph had a wobble and ended up in jail. In January, when I read Steph’s words about her court hearing it was clear that Tony has had a life-changing effect on her life:

When I went to Halifax I sat in front of the judge and the crown was asking for 4-6 months and my lawyer asked for probation and sure enough I got it. Then, when I went to Pictou courts my lawyer asked for 6 months house arrest and he got it too […] if it wasn’t for my lawyer in Halifax I would of been fucked.

 He fought for me to do house arrest because I did so much in the last year, like, he brought up how when I lived in Ottawa I met this man named Tony Fouhse was gonna help me get into a rehab called the R.O Royal Ottawa but I never came to the rehab because I ended up growing a cyst on my brain and how Tony ended up helping me ween from using Heroin to 1 4mg dillie (Dilaudid) a day and sent me home to my family where I could sober up and become a clean mom and we did a project of my life on the street.

It’s a bit embarrassing it’s taken me six months to share my wonder. As well as being photo-rich, Steph and Tony’s journey is a really compelling story. Live Through This is one of the most interesting photography projects I’ve followed in recent years.

STRAYLIGHT PRESS

Live Through This is all the more impressive because Tony and Steph have taken it upon themselves to promote, produce and distribute it. Tony describes Straylight Press as a “vehicle to produce and disseminate printed photo matter.”

Future projects include the unflinching work of Scot Sothern and Brett Gundlock’s Prisoners (which I saluted in the past) so it is exciting times. The idea is that the success of one project feeds the next, so if enough copies of Live Through This sell then profits go into producing the next photographer’s book. It’s a pre-sales fundraising model. In addition, Straylight zines are fairly inexpensive and the intent is to produce 3 or 4 each year.

“Straylight is kind of like a Kickstarter, but with more long-term commitment to projects that aren’t just my own,” says Tony. “Kickstarter projects, while a good and interesting idea, seem to me to be too much about the individual. Not that I have anything against that, after all, you need an ego to be a photographer. But …”

Last month, Tony talked with the Ottawa Citizen about Straylight: Tony Fouhse opens photo-book publishing house – and web gurus be damned.

Tony is flogging prints, books and workshops to raise money for Straylight projects.

Understandably, Tony is shifting his energies from his personal blog drool to the Straylight blog. Straylight is also on Facebook.

Good stuff.

Joce, Ottawa, 2010 © Tony Fouhse.

Despite being four years deep in his project USER, Tony Fouhse is more confused than ever by what it all means.

I recommend you read his latest blog post. Fouhse talks about beginning his fourth and final year on the project, subjects who have died, and the gratitude of one of his subjects now she is clean.

The post is a reflection and it is as much for him as it is for us.

USER

I hope that you are all aware of his work photographing the crack addicts in Ottawa – not forgetting the interviews, the coverage, the love and the controversy that follows any project such as this that positions addicts as the subject of fine art.

So, I want to say a few things.

– Tony has been very open to discussion and criticism of his work. He will also defend his work with vigour, as often criticism leveled at his work is – in some guise – puritan criticism of photography in general.

– Tony’s subjects love his work; many go to the USER exhibition openings. Dawn was one of Tony’s subjects; her letter is included in Tony’s latest blog post: “I would like the picture so I can remind myself that I do not want to look that horrible or be that desperate again. I really do appreciate your work and all that you do. I have followed your work since I got clean. Please let me know if you have a copy of the picture.”

– Tony has shown real commitment to his process and the subjects. Yes, he is trying to construct a meaningful “complex sequence”, but that doesn’t mean he is manipulating his subjects, dropping in and out of their difficult lives. The best illustration of this is the map below. Every portrait over the past four years he has shot on this same corner. He knows all these men and women.

Portfolio at his website: http://tonyfoto.com

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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