December update

Some thoughts on the work...

Despite my research delving into issues around social justice and addiction and (access to) recovery and treatment options, this project remains mostly documentary in nature. Ideally, I’d like to be addressing these issues of social justice within the work, but I don’t think that it’s there now, and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to turn the corner now. I hope these issues will be present to some degree, but at this time, the project is about a specific place, a specific group, and a specific time. These three things are interconnected, and each facet actually is relevant to the larger conversation about drug policy, addiction and recovery, as well as the larger discussion of the war on drugs. 
First, the place. Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, in mostly white affluent suburbs. The suburbs I grew up in, and the place where two of my three brothers ultimately forged their drug addiction. Massachusetts is interesting and relevant to the project for more than just simply a place that is accessible because I live here. I think Massachusetts is relevant to broader national and maybe international drug policy interests for two main reasons. One: Massachusetts, like many states, is reevaluating its stance on drug and addiction policy. Local and statewide initiatives have made national news for both good and bad unique policies. For example, the police chief in Gloucester, MA recently very publically initiated a program essentially decriminalizing drug use and dedicated resources to direct users into treatment. On the other hand, the ACLU is suing the state for a controversial law that allows them to lock up addicts, regardless of whether or not they’ve committed a crime (ostensibly to deliver life-saving treatment). These complex local issues are indicative and representative of the dynamic landscape we’re presently occupying as a nation. The community that I’m photographing lays smack in the middle of this changing policy. One of the people I’m photographing was the first person to go through the Gloucester “angel” program, and many others were either imprisoned under controversial “section 35”, or instigated the lock up (mostly family members of the addict). 

I’ve touched a bit on the second of the three facets: the group. The people I’m photographing are all connected in some way. Most of them are involved with a certain kind of 12-step recovery. Outside of AA, but closely related, this community eschews regular meeting attendance, instead focusing on personal spiritual growth through a specific adherence to the 12-steps. This, unlike the geographic interconnectedness, is a specific group, and in my observation, falls outside of what most people would consider an average addict’s recovery experience (although increasingly researchers and policy makers are suggesting there isn’t really an “average”). Regardless, the approach I’ve taken is to photograph each person as an individual. Part of the project I imagine is about the individual experience of each person… This brings me to my own personal narrative, which I’ve been dealing with lately. In the exploration of place and experience by other people, I have always been cognisant of my own interest in this project stemming from my own experiences, and perhaps through this MFA program, I have become more disillusioned with the authority/authenticity of photography to be impartial in its documentation. I found myself unable to turn away from this intersection of thought, and thus have turned the camera on myself and my family. I recall one of my first critiques with Oliver Wasow during my first residency and later expanding on the idea with John Kramer that the anonymous landscape work I entered the program with was directly related to my fear-the topic I am now trying to address with my self-portrait video–and the fulcrum point I see all of this work converging at. 

I’ve already touched on the third facet mentioned above: the time. I believe we are at the beginning of the end of drug prohibition, and the beginning of a huge sea change where cultural attitudes on addiction are drastically changing. 

Formally, the work could be presented in a few different ways, but ultimately falls within traditional photographic representations. I see a book, or at least a series that reads as a group. As I collect two semesters worth of work in the coming months to review the group as a whole, I’m looking forward to seeing how they all fit together, where there are any missing links, and seeing how best to address these gaps. I was most intrigued in my research to find an observation (the author presently escapes me) about the Bechers work, where it changes depending on how the typology is presented: through a grid on the wall, or in book form. As I get into a final edit, it will be interesting to see how these different presentations change the way the work reads. In addition to still images, motion work has been a part of my practice over the last few years, and I continue to experiment. I anticipate one or more projections or monitor viewings for this work in the final presentation. 

As to the thesis itself, and the framework of the discourse I intend to place my work in, I think the last few papers are probably the best jumping off point. I think looking at the genre of documentary portraiture throughout history would be appropriate. I also think there is a connection to conflict photography, or post-conflict perhaps, but probably less so. Looking at self portraiture in still and motion work would be appropriate, but maybe more than just self portraiture, a look at how artists’ respond to and reflect on their own experiences. Finally, I think work of artists who are photographing/responding to their own family or community would be good sources to contextualize what I’m doing: Nan Goldin comes to mind.