Photographer Captures Bronx Faces of Addiction

By May Wilkerson 02/28/12

Chris Arnade captures raw, vivid portraits of street addicts in the Bronx. He tells us how it's changed his attitudes.

Cynthia, a 46-year-old prostitute photographed by
Arnade. She's been on the streets since she was 13.
Photo via

Photographer Chris Arnade documents heroin and crack addicts in the Bronx for his ongoing photo essay, Faces of Addiction. The portraits and accompanying stories reveal an arresting intimacy between subject and photographer. "In particular what struck me is how self aware and open so many of the addicts were and how willing they were to talk to me," 46-year-old Arnade tells The Fix. He always returns with a printed portrait for each of his subjects, many of whom are lifelong addicts who have been in and out of recovery. Sonia, a crack-addicted mother of five, tells a painful story of relapse after eight years clean: "I went to a program, mothers and children, everything was great, I came out, got a job, felt good, had money." She has been back out for four years. "I am a good person with a very bad disease. If I had all the money in the world I would own all the crack in the world." Arnade's experiences have changed his view of addiction, revealing a very different reality from the often crude portrayals in the media. "When I read all the nasty things people had written about Whitney Houston in the press, I thought of Sonia," says Arnade. "What I am hoping to do, by allowing my subjects to share their dreams and burdens with the viewer and by photographing them with respect, is to show that everyone, regardless of their station in life, is as valid as anyone else.” Some of his work will be presented at the Urban Folk Art Gallery in Brooklyn on March 9.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.