On Location With the Bronx Addiction Photographer
Chris Arnade is a Wall Street investment banker who devotes his spare time to documenting the lives of street addicts for his Faces of Addiction photo series. He invited The Fix to accompany him to the Bronx for an afternoon of shooting; the 46-year-old Florida native does most of his work in Hunts Point in the South Bronx. This afternoon's walk takes us past a desolate stretch of warehouses, junkyards and decrepit buildings which house a large number of drug addicts—many of whom Arnade has befriended. "If you're gonna be a photographer," he tells us, "you need to take a risk, to engage." It's this very ability that gives Arnade's portraits a rare feeling of intimacy. Each photo is accompanied with back-stories of the subjects' lives. The bios often include abuse, rape, homelessness and prostitution, as well as alcohol and drugs. Arnade always returns to give each subject a printed copy of their portrait. Willy, aka "Supreme"—a middle-aged dope addict wearing a seersucker suit—tells The Fix, "I hung the photo above my bed. I look at it every night before I go to sleep."
The consequences of addiction are catastrophic for the many in this area without access to quality medical care. "When you fall here, you fall much farther," Arnade explains. "Families are shattered. You don't have lawyers. Drugs land you in jail. You fall quicker and there's a steeper cliff to climb when you get out." Many addicts here are homeless, in and out of detox, shelters, or jail, or working the streets; in Hunts Point there's huge overlap between drug addiction and prostitution. When asked if one precedes the other, Arnade says "It's 50-50. It's hard to imagine being a prostitute and not being addicted. [Drugs] are a source of solace."
Arnade then speaks with Sydney, a 50-year-old heroin addict who he meets outside a bodega. Sydney opens up about his life and addiction: "You like the feeling but then the addiction takes over." He is now homeless and sleeps in the bodega's basement when it's cold out. "Heroin took my job, home and family," he tells us. Like many Hunts Point addicts, Sydney has been in and out of detox and dreams of one day getting clean and "getting my life back together." Arnade asks all his subjects how they would like to be described in their bios. For Sydney, the answer is simple: "Please describe me as a human being. With an addiction."