In the past few years I have come to know a small group of street-friends, with whom I have developed a close relationship. They are homeless young adult drug users, who spend their time in downtown Boston. The social and economic gap between is large. I am only a visitor in their world and know my understanding of their lives will always be incomplete. But, as our relationships developed I realized that photographic portraiture could express their dignity and human worth, as well as the unpleasant truths about their lives.
I began this project in response to psychiatric illness in my family. Family and friends had been diagnosed with severe disorders after many years of suffering. Their illnesses do not involve substance abuse. But during the treatment I was guided by patients with problems of addiction, as well as other disorders.
It is important to me that my street-friends have an understanding of my story, and we swap histories freely without judgment. I find that intimacy and trust allow me to convey the complexity of their stories and make better images.
I only take pictures with permission, usually given in part for money or other goods, and also the promise that the image itself will be respectful, pleasing, and used fairly. We discuss the contexts in which their portraits will be shown, and they are comfortable about these possibilities. Good intentions can’t be enough to offset the risks of misrepresentation. Vigilance and frequent consultation are necessary in this project.
I photograph in color and I prefer natural light. These elements help me avoid the clichés often seen in photographs about drugs and homelessness. I want to make formally beautiful images, which will bring viewers to a new relationship with the complexity and suffering being depicted.
There is also a moral dimension to my work. My subjects live lives of suffering and pain, in plain view of others. I don’t believe my photography will effect any change, but I hope to bear witness.