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Photos Of Addiction And The Implications Of Blogging About Them

Chris Arnade is somewhat wary of journalists, which makes this somewhat tricky to write. I don't really blame him. Certain click-hungry headlines have misconstrued what his photos are about.

For one, he argues that the photos aren't really about him, and so certain details — like what he does for a living — are kind of irrelevant. There's one thing he readily admits he's not, and that's a journalist. "I don't verify," he says on the phone, "I just listen."

During our brief lunchtime conversation, I can't help but note the din of a busy office in the background, and I can't help but find that interesting. Arnade is a trader by day, and is unapologetic about it.

"I like working on Wall Street. It's a challenge in a different way," he says. And adds: "I think anyone who is by some measure successful has an obligation to be aware of how you got there — and how others didn't make it."

That's a sentiment that has to be eked out, though, because Arnade really isn't moralizing, at least from what I gather. He's a guy with a camera who likes to go on long walks, talking with the people he encounters.

"Sometimes my path takes me to places other people wouldn't go," he says. Though it seems like his path almost always takes him to such places. Places like Hunts Point, a neighborhood in South Bronx reputed to have a very high crime rate and very low incomes, prostitution, drugs, violence.

  • "I have spent the last year, like others in finance, dealing with Greece. The irony of being reminded of this in a Bronx Bodega made me chuckle. Eugene said, 'You don't like Athens? I loved it.' I explained, and then he told me of his world travels as a Marine, enlisted for 16 years, from '67 to '83. And so the salute from Eugene: Lover of Greece, Marine, Vietnam Vet."
    Hide caption
    "I have spent the last year, like others in finance, dealing with Greece. The irony of being reminded of this in a Bronx Bodega made me chuckle. Eugene said, 'You don't like Athens? I loved it.' I explained, and then he told me of his world travels as a Marine, enlisted for 16 years, from '67 to '83. And so the salute from Eugene: Lover of Greece, Marine, Vietnam Vet."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "Millie, 40, got into heroin at the age of 23, and has been addicted since. The last 17 years she's been in and out of rehab and jail (possession and prostitution) and mothered four children. Her first three children she gave to her mother, and when her mother passed, to her sister. The sister, unable to support them, gave them to the state."
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    "Millie, 40, got into heroin at the age of 23, and has been addicted since. The last 17 years she's been in and out of rehab and jail (possession and prostitution) and mothered four children. Her first three children she gave to her mother, and when her mother passed, to her sister. The sister, unable to support them, gave them to the state."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "Homeless since being released from jail ... [Prince] spends the night collecting scrap metal and old pallets that he cashes in before sunrise. He uses the money mostly for heroin, an addiction that has landed him in prison three times. From the Virgin Islands but raised in the Bronx, he is the oldest of 17 children. He was molested by a neighbor as a child, something he is only now understandi...
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    "Homeless since being released from jail ... [Prince] spends the night collecting scrap metal and old pallets that he cashes in before sunrise. He uses the money mostly for heroin, an addiction that has landed him in prison three times. From the Virgin Islands but raised in the Bronx, he is the oldest of 17 children. He was molested by a neighbor as a child, something he is only now understanding."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "I had been looking for [Prince] for over two weeks, hoping to finally give him a copy of his picture. I have been asked why I bother giving copies to folks who are homeless. ... It's a nice feeling to see someone who has so little have something to be proud about. ... I also wanted to see if I could help him. I offered to pay his fines for outstanding warrants if he agreed to immediately go in...
    Hide caption
    "I had been looking for [Prince] for over two weeks, hoping to finally give him a copy of his picture. I have been asked why I bother giving copies to folks who are homeless. ... It's a nice feeling to see someone who has so little have something to be proud about. ... I also wanted to see if I could help him. I offered to pay his fines for outstanding warrants if he agreed to immediately go into rehab. He agreed. I hope he actually follows through."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "Pam, 46, from Delaware, was raped at the age of 11 and started using PCP at 12. The mother of three bi-racial children (the youngest now 25), she was disowned by her 'prejudice family.' The husband of her children passed away 'far too early,' leaving her with no support. She now walks the streets of Hunts Point, trying to make enough for heroin or crack."
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    "Pam, 46, from Delaware, was raped at the age of 11 and started using PCP at 12. The mother of three bi-racial children (the youngest now 25), she was disowned by her 'prejudice family.' The husband of her children passed away 'far too early,' leaving her with no support. She now walks the streets of Hunts Point, trying to make enough for heroin or crack."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "Takeesha had her first child at 13, the result of being raped. ... She came to Hunts Point in 1988, and that's when she started using heroin: 'This place is so bad and evil,' [she says]. 'It's like so simple to walk across the bridge, but it's like you can't go across, you understand? This place is evil. It's possessed.' "
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    "Takeesha had her first child at 13, the result of being raped. ... She came to Hunts Point in 1988, and that's when she started using heroin: 'This place is so bad and evil,' [she says]. 'It's like so simple to walk across the bridge, but it's like you can't go across, you understand? This place is evil. It's possessed.' "
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "At the age of 13, Chris killed his father, stabbing him with a knife after a childhood of abuse. He spent the next 18 years in correctional facilities. ... 'He beat me and my mother all the time. I have been drinking ever since. To forget.' When I asked how he wanted to be described, his eyes teared up and he said, 'I am human, like everyone else.' "
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    "At the age of 13, Chris killed his father, stabbing him with a knife after a childhood of abuse. He spent the next 18 years in correctional facilities. ... 'He beat me and my mother all the time. I have been drinking ever since. To forget.' When I asked how he wanted to be described, his eyes teared up and he said, 'I am human, like everyone else.' "
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "Former pro boxer (lightweight) from Connecticut, now an addict living in a homeless shelter. Manny's career ended after several injuries left him with a right eye that is unable to focus. Unable to fight, with little other skills, he found himself homeless and turned to heroin."
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    "Former pro boxer (lightweight) from Connecticut, now an addict living in a homeless shelter. Manny's career ended after several injuries left him with a right eye that is unable to focus. Unable to fight, with little other skills, he found himself homeless and turned to heroin."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade
  • "I returned late Thursday night to give Lamar his picture. Lamar who lives in a small room in an abandoned building, apologized for the mess, then thanked me and asked if I could bring another for his mother."
    Hide caption
    "I returned late Thursday night to give Lamar his picture. Lamar who lives in a small room in an abandoned building, apologized for the mess, then thanked me and asked if I could bring another for his mother."
    Photos and captions by Chris Arnade

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Still, the point is that although some people wouldn't go there, other people call that home. "No matter where people are in their life, everyone is as valid as anyone else," he says, sounding somewhat frustrated with himself: "I don't know how to say it without sounding cliched."

The cliched headline and the stereotypical implications, unfortunately, are all too easy: Privileged white man photographs New York City's beleaguered streets.

I contacted him simply wanting to know more about his series "Faces of Addiction" (all of which can be found captioned on Flickr) because, bottom line, I hadn't seen a project quite like it before: That style of portraiture in that neighborhood, accompanied by stories so candidly told.

But after seeing how others have written about Arnade's photos, I'm left with some big unanswered questions. Like: Can photos and stories just speak for themselves? (Sometimes.) Does it matter who took them? (It kind of does.) Is it problematic that Arnade is not from that neighborhood? (Depends on whom you ask.)

What about the fact that people like Eugene may never see this blog post? (That one stumps me.) Or: Would you have been more inclined to click on this story if the headline had been more salacious? (Be honest.)

What I gather from Arnade's captions is that he wields his camera with a curious sincerity. The people he encounters want to share their stories; they want to be heard. And so he photographs people with addictions and drug habits; people who walk the streets either homeless or as prostitutes or both.

"Andre had just gotten Essence's Easter photo taken and was walking home when I met them. Andre, 40, is a former addict who has been in recovery for 12 years."

hide caption"Andre had just gotten Essence's Easter photo taken and was walking home when I met them. Andre, 40, is a former addict who has been in recovery for 12 years."

Chris Arnade/Flickr

He also photographs people who are on the mend, going to parties, living life. "I got into photography as a way to interact with people," he says.

Does it have to be any more complicated than that?

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