Photos Of Addiction And The Implications Of Blogging About Them : The Picture Show Chris Arnade takes photos, and for a whole host of reasons, it's complicated.
NPR logo Photos Of Addiction And The Implications Of Blogging About Them

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.

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." Chris Arnade/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption
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?