Photography Exhibition “Reframes” Recovery from Drug Abuse
Images foreground not life’s dark moments but on the light and comparative lightness former users create for themselves.
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 the all the light and comparative lightness that former addicts can 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.
Many of the Beyond Addiction: Reframing Recovery 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 Meltzer: Dopesick — 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.
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.
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
Originally published on Prison Photography