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February 21, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Chris Arnade is a forex trader with an odd pasttime: taking pictures of New York addicts in a series he calls Faces of Addiction.
posted by chundo (134 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
I find this....discomforting. He doesn't advocate for his subjects, the photos are neither talented nor flattering...it seems to appeal to his own prurient interest and exploit the subjects for that.

Maybe these people just wanted to be heard.... and it feels like he is exploiting that.
posted by taff at 12:15 PM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I follow the 'bronx' tag on Flickr and came across those Hunt's Point pictures. Amazing. I wondered what the photographer's story was.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:15 PM on February 21, 2012


Small world. He's a friend of a friend (but I have never met him). Business Insider's headline was much more interesting.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the first thing high-schoolers who are 'getting into photography' do when they get an SLR?
posted by wcfields at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the subject is not very original. The pictures are not particularly impressive. Perhaps this is knee jerk, but the entire project seem exploitative and an article in Business Insider isn't giving it any more legitimacy.
posted by cloeburner at 12:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this FPP would have been better (and the discussion probably rather different) if it had merely said "an amateur photographer who takes pictures of..."). I think the "forex trader" with an "odd pastime" is unnecessarily heavy-handed editorializing.
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Yeah, the subject is not very original. The pictures are not particularly impressive

Look, i just flip through photos tagged 'bronx' on flickr using Google Reader once or twice a week. These photos stand far above the endless Botanical Garden macros and blurred Yankees bleacher shots.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:26 PM on February 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


...yeah, not to shit on someone's art, but this really comes off as a dude who got a copy of Larry Clark's Tulsa, said "I can do that" and didn't. Hopefully he'll get better at photography, because he's got a great concept.
posted by griphus at 12:26 PM on February 21, 2012


I bet he can afford an awesome camera
posted by mattoxic at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]



It's easy to forget that addicts and prostitutes are people. There's no art here, nothing very deep. The pictures are nothing special. But I am moved by the stories.

No matter who you are, you want to be remembered in this world and to matter to someone, even if it is douche with a fancy camera.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2012 [35 favorites]


yoink: "I think this FPP would have been better (and the discussion probably rather different) if it had merely said "an amateur photographer who takes pictures of..."). I think the "forex trader" with an "odd pastime" is unnecessarily heavy-handed editorializing."

I would guess the poster framed it that way because the second paragraph of the Business Insider piece starts with: Chris Arnade, 46, a forex trader... and the article's headline starts with A Citigroup Trader....

Because, in my eyes, the whole point of this FPP is that there is no shortage of amateur photographers taking pictures of drug addicts and homeless, but because it's a Wall Street dude, it's suddenly news and worthy of praise.
posted by wcfields at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2012


I bet he can afford an awesome camera

Isn't the first sentence in pretty much every beginner's photography book about how fancy equipment won't mean you automatically take great pictures?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2012


cloeburner: the entire project seem exploitative

How so? I realize the blurbs only tell one side of the story, but I have no reason to suspect the story is anything more than presented: he chats with his subjects about their lives, takes his photos, and probably leaves their day a little brighter than it would be otherwise.
posted by gilrain at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Isn't this the first thing high-schoolers who are 'getting into photography' do when they get an SLR?

Yes, with any luck. It's because of photographers like Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus, who did this brilliantly and set the stage for hundreds of thousands of photographers to come along after them and hone their skill at photographing people as they exist. No frills. No special lighting. No costumes. It's an important step, I think, in the life of a photographer, and I like seeing different spins on it.

Is this one series particularly well-spoken? No, I don't personally think so. But I do get it, and I get where the photographer is coming from. I still take these pictures, too. It's a way of interacting with people that I doubt can be done without a camera... people open up in a very unexpected way when you ask them if you can snap a shot. You kind of never know what you're going to get, so it's exciting. It's raw. It's a pretty hardcore way of shooting people, and I respect it... even when it's not very well executed.
posted by heyho at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2012 [28 favorites]


Isn't this the first thing high-schoolers who are 'getting into photography' do when they get an SLR?

Interview junkies? I think we went to different high schools-- at mine, the photography kids started with shots of their pets.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


I had read the piece in the NY Times this morning. The guy says it is a hobby. His choice of subjects a bit offbeat given his background, but imagine someone having a hobby of photographing well to do hedge fund people? Nah. It is always the homeless,the addicts, the down and out people...Why? I have no quarrel with what he does. He gives the people blown up photos of themselves and spends some 500 bucks a month in so doing.
posted by Postroad at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


His choice of subjects a bit offbeat given his background, but imagine someone having a hobby of photographing well to do hedge fund people? Nah.

If his audience is limited to Metafilter, I think shots of hedge fund managers might be a little more useful on the "reminders that they are people" front.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


but imagine someone having a hobby of photographing well to do hedge fund people?

Mergers and acquisitions but still.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there really no shortage of amateur photographers wandering around Hunts Point taking portraits of addicts, not passed out, not from a distance, but staring wide eyed into the camera, and listening to their stories?

Most people wouldn't even go to Hunt's Point.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [45 favorites]


Isn't this the first thing high-schoolers who are 'getting into photography' do when they get an SLR?

I think "high schoolers" and other amateurs who decide to take "arty" shots of homeless people etc., usually do so with a longish lens and without engaging with the subject. This guy talks to these people, finds out about their lives, and tells their story--with their permission--on his Flickr stream. It all seems about the opposite of "exploitative" or "touristic" or any of the easy stereotypes everyone is jumping simply because of their own easy stereotypes about what "forex traders" are probably like.

I would have been fascinated to see what Metafilter's reaction to the photo project would have been like if it hadn't been framed via the "Business Insider" story. I think there would have been far more interest in the subjects of the photographs and the stories they have to tell than in crapping on the photographer.
posted by yoink at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2012 [48 favorites]


hobby of photographing well to do hedge fund people

You mean like Manhattan File, Hamptons Magazine and Page 6 ?
posted by Ad hominem at 12:39 PM on February 21, 2012


I'd like to see him expand into taking pictures of other traders, shooting honest portraits of them, asking them to describe themselves and why they turned to trading.

"If I had all the money in the world I would own all the cocoa in the world. In 2010, I achieved that goal." Picture of Anthony Ward.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I hate to pile on, but I also at first blush found the concept (overplayed as it is) to be exploitive. Still, I clicked through and read the stories, and they are, as expected, very sad. I guess if there's anything positive here it's that these people all get their two sentence sound-bites heard. I'm not sure that outweighs the entire poverty tourism thing that's in play- there's something that squicks me out about this- it's abandoned ruins taken by rich people with high end cameras, only this time with the added bonus of these ruins being able to talk, and willing to talk because their desperation and habits mean they'll always be receptive and accessible to most anyone who they think might toss them a dollar or two in exchange.

also it's grotesque that Business Insider only chose to showcase the images of female prostitutes, and not the other addicts he's photographed. I like a little extra misogyny with my exploitation too.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


If his audience is limited to Metafilter, I think shots of hedge fund managers might be a little more useful on the "reminders that they are people" front. and I'd like to see him expand into taking pictures of other traders, shooting honest portraits of them, asking them to describe themselves and why they turned to trading.

Seriously. Or pictures of people addicted to credit.
posted by resurrexit at 12:47 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Disarmingly well spoken I asked him what he was doing "I am a panhandler sir." I asked him how long he's been homeless. "Since I got addicted to coke, about twenty years ago. I was a high school english teacher in Harlem, clean, then my mother passed and left me some money. I blew it on coke. I lost my job, my family, everything."

And that is how it goes.....
posted by caddis at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't all photography of people exploitive ? mug shot for jail ? wedding photos? graduation pics? vacation pics? The guy does not do this as a job (not for a hedge fund magazine) but out of interest. Check his background! Not merely a well paid finance guy but also a PhD. in physics, which suggest to me that he has a general interest in the world he lives in and not simply a narrow view of his class and neighborhood. I applaud him for his interest.
posted by Postroad at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


Most people wouldn't even go to Hunt's Point.

This.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:52 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nah. It is always the homeless,the addicts, the down and out people...Why?

Don't forget the freaks, geeks, etc. It's mostly because there is a lack of pretense with them, they wear their flaws and characters on their skin. It's also because most of the people who get known doing these types of photos are from well to do, sheltered, and similar lives. Most of the well known photographers i've come across who do this sort of thing (Arbus and similar really) do come from those backgrounds and then make a big deal out of it. When people are around or from these groups, it's more like they are their friends or usual. Even if the photos are technically better, to me it feels the way they are shot is more of one type. I've got photos of friends who turned to drugs, and some prostitution, but less formal and more varied. People are complicated, and it's really hard to get a lot of them in a portrait, usually end up with one facet of many, and the one the photographer intends in the first place. So yeah, this is interesting, mostly because he gets stories, but it does seem the bigger part is is his background not theirs.
posted by usagizero at 12:52 PM on February 21, 2012


He could have stayed in his office and photographed the addicts there. I can guarantee that there are some right down the hall or on the floors above/below him. That would be interesting, or at least less trite.
posted by rtha at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is also nearly impossible to live in New York and not be confronted by homeless on a daily basis. In my mind, it is better to take an interest in their stories as fellow human beings, than to try to avoid them.

Hunt's Point is probably less than 15 miles from Wall Street. How does this happen. People making millions as forex traders and homeless addicts, in the same city but with a huge huge gulf between them.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can't explain why, but the homeless in SF look worse. And there's more of them.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:02 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


In order for this to be exploitative, doesn't he need to be gaining something from it?

Reactions to art are always necessarily idiosyncratic, but I sorta liked this. I don't know if I'd like the photographer, I don't know if I believe everything the people in the pictures say, but I like the documentation of these people and their lives in their own word.

These people exist, their lives are real, and if talking to this guy and seeing a picture of themselves brings them any comfort, it's a good thing. I can only imagine how I might feel like I was invisible, like I didn't even exist if I were out on the street like that. Sometimes it's humanizing just to be seen.
posted by clockzero at 1:02 PM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


When I asked how he wanted to be described, his eyes teared up and he said "I am human, like everyone else."

and that is what makes this a great post.
posted by caddis at 1:03 PM on February 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


People making millions as forex traders and homeless addicts, in the same city but with a huge huge gulf between them.

What gulf? From this thread I've learned that every rich person in Manhattan regularly goes off chatting to the poor and the homeless asking to hear their stories and trying to get those stories out to the world. Apparently homeless people in New York can barely move for all the Wall St. millionaires crawling all over them competing for the best camera angles.

If only rich people had the decency to stay entirely cocooned in their own little world of privilege and focus solely on the problems of other rich people. But nooooooooo.
posted by yoink at 1:04 PM on February 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


Also, who pays money to sleep with these really scary looking prostitutes? Don't they have anyplace they can buy porn?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:07 PM on February 21, 2012


Is this one series particularly well-spoken? No, I don't personally think so. But I do get it, and I get where the photographer is coming from. I still take these pictures, too. It's a way of interacting with people that I doubt can be done without a camera... people open up in a very unexpected way when you ask them if you can snap a shot. You kind of never know what you're going to get, so it's exciting. It's raw. It's a pretty hardcore way of shooting people, and I respect it... even when it's not very well executed.

I think you overstate the "raw" or "hardcore" nature of photographing the homeless, addicted, and marginalized. I would find it more hardcore if he were photographing privileged people who have built up a protective carapace against intrusions. Poor, marginalized people are arguably more open and easy to talk to.

I think there's also an element of condescension when a privileged person goes out and photographs the marginalized. What gets me is the whole "hi, I'm middle or upper class, I'm approaching you in the confidence that you will not raise sophisticated questions about my motives or the legitimacy of my project, and you're lucky to have me recognize your humanity with my art." There's a way in which people who are marginalized are easier to approach because they are naive and not able to judge his project.

Photographers like William Eggleston, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, invest more in their subjects, I think; they seem to live among them to some degree, which makes their work less condescending.
posted by jayder at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Harsh crowd. I like this.

I do find it disconcerting that virtually all the women are prostitutes, but the men (with the exception of Michael/Shelley) seem to just panhandle to support their habit.
posted by something something at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2012


Also, who pays money to sleep with these really scary looking prostitutes?

Rule 43, baby.

Back in the day when I used to hang out on alt.drugs.hard, there was a guy who used to post from time to time, offering to pay if he could watch and photograph skinny guys injecting.

I always assumed it was a fetish thing, but perhaps it was just a 'documentary photography hobby' like this guy's?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Poor, marginalized people are arguably more open and easy to talk to.

I think this is part of the reason that the suggest pictures of hedge fund managers series would be possibly more interesting (if you could do it). One of the privileges that privileged people have is being better able to protect themselves from "realistic" depictions. It doesn't take much to get beyond the façade of a homeless addict; he doesn't have nearly the same amount of power to project one.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


He offered to pay Prince's outstanding fines if he wanted to get into rehab. That seems like the opposite of being exploitative.

Random affluent white guy decides to find out what it's like on the other side, documents his odyssey. Most affluent white guys never bother. Maybe he isn't Diane Arbus, but I give the guy props for effort.
posted by localroger at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, who pays money to sleep with these really scary looking prostitutes? Don't they have anyplace they can buy porn?

You can't rape, abuse, exploit, beat, or murder videos.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


You can't rape, abuse, exploit, beat, or murder videos.

By contrast you can consensually stick your dick in a video, at least if it's a DVD, but you might want to load up on the KY first.
posted by localroger at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, I've been meaning to post this to AskMe for a while, but I'm so scared of burning my weekly question (of which I've asked like 3 in my life) that I never do it ...

I remember a documentary movie about alcoholics at a specific bar near Times Square in the 80s? I could have sworn it was called "Faces" or something like that.

Basically, the cinematographer would interview or photograph alcoholics as their situations deteriorated (or didn't).

I'll be damned if I can find anything about it.

Anyone?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2012


I've seen these before on reddit. It seems like the guy has an account over there and posts them every now and then. Maybe r/photography or r/itookapicture.
posted by zardoz at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2012


I think this is part of the reason that the suggest pictures of hedge fund managers series would be possibly more interesting (if you could do it).

Seriously, imagine the equivalent of this project but done on hedge fund managers for just half a second: a candid photo of a hedge fund manager in his suit and tie standing in front of an office building or standing in his office with accompanying text about how he got to be a hedge fund manager (Harvard MBA, recruitment by some friend's firm etc.).

Yeah, Metafilter would just love that. "Forex trader takes photos of his rich buddies and gets them to tell their own stories of how they became rich." No possibility of anyone criticizing that. Nosiree.

Oh, and how much "courage" would it take for him to knock on a friend's office door and ask him if he could take such a photograph? None. None at all. Why would any hedge fund manager or forex trader or whoever object to such a thing? What's the downside risk for them?
posted by yoink at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think he's being exploitative. His Flickr comments seem genuinely caring and he talks about speaking to lawyers about some of the people he photographs to see if he can improve his situation. In the NYTimes piece he mentions that he offers a meal, money or cigarettes to his subjects

As mentioned above, he has a PhD in physics and his father was "a history professor and civil rights activist who braved criticism for his views as an outspoken antisegregationist". That doesn't sound like the profile of a heartless exploiter of the poor to me.
posted by peacheater at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fuck is wrong with everyone here? This guy might not be the greatest artist, but he is going out recognizing, personifying, listening, and talking to those less fortunate. He then shares their story and a snapshot of who they are. Ostensibly recognizing his privilege and refusing to accept that these are not real people.

One too many sociology majors here who think the only way to actually help someone is to write a haughty paper that references Foucault and words like 'hegemony' and 'dialectic.'
posted by jjmoney at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2012 [109 favorites]


Oh, while we're mentioning the relative brilliance of Diane Arbus, I hope nobody is forgetting the part where she committed suicide.
posted by localroger at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2012


He also mentions tracking down his subjects and giving copies of his photos to them. I'm sure they appreciate that.
posted by peacheater at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, who pays money to sleep with these really scary looking prostitutes? Don't they have anyplace they can buy porn?

Every once in a while you read or hear a question so ridiculous as to beggar belief. ?!?!

I liked the stories and pictures.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am no artist and won't attempt to speak to the quality of the guy's project on that front. I do think it's a neat thing that he is doing from a journalistic perspective. And the fact that his professional life would easily permit him to completely ignore this side of NYC (as, let's face it, most of us do, most of the time, regardless of whether we are "forex traders") makes his decision to pay attention better, not worse.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


He also mentions tracking down his subjects and giving copies of his photos to them. I'm sure they appreciate that.

This.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:37 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


He's got a lot of interesting sets. I like the series on Eshete.

I like this guy and what he's doing. From his profile page:

This wonderful quote from Katherine Boo, about the slums of India, is a nice summary of what I try to capture in my pictures. "There's some way in which we would prefer not to see very clearly the immense gifts and intelligence of some of the people who live in our most abject conditions. Maybe there are some things at work in deciding who gets to be society's winners and who gets to be society's losers that don't have to do with merit."

I post peoples stories as they tell them to me. I am not a journalist, I don't try to verify, just listen.

posted by madamjujujive at 1:44 PM on February 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


Here's a man of privilege going out and actually listening and connecting to societies socially marginalized people, and he's not (at least not yet) making money off it. I don't see this as exploitative at all. Looking through the pictures and reading the stories made me feel empathy for a section of society I don't usually stop to consider in day to day life. That alone is worth it.

I would also like to call out everyone saying it's "so easy!" to go to Hunts Point with an expensive camera and walk around and talk to people on the bottom rungs of society. Give me a break.
posted by jnnla at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Every once in a while you read or hear a question so ridiculous as to beggar belief. ?!?!

You know, I realize that you're trying to shame me for saying anything other than "OH THE HUMANITY!!! *SOB*", but I think it's a reasonable question to ask. I mean, every day, we run into people on the street who look like that, and they ask us for money, and we basically pay them to go away. But there are clearly people out there who will pay these people money so they can sleep with them. And I'm wondering who these men are, who would pay to sleep with a really scary, unhealthy-looking prostitute instead wanking to a nice safe porn mag. Clearly these men are out there, and I'm curious about who they are and why they do what they do.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:12 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like a lot of these.

Gravel plant near the Gowanus Canal. Car Service in Red Hook. All the Pigeon Coops
posted by Ad hominem at 2:12 PM on February 21, 2012


(instead of wanking)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2012


What these people need is a society that gives a shit.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:20 PM on February 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


You know, I realize that you're trying to shame me for saying anything other than "OH THE HUMANITY!!! *SOB*"...

I'm not trying to shame you at all, and certainly not for that.

It just seems that your perspective here is a bit skewed by your own circumstances.

And I'm wondering who these men are, who would pay to sleep with a really scary, unhealthy-looking prostitute instead wanking to a nice safe porn mag.

For starters, men who can't use their hands? Sure, that's an unusual case, but it shows how you are framing the situation.

Anyway, my fault for the derail, but you seem to be projecting your own sexuality onto the world writ large, imo. I would think there are myriad reasons people would prefer to hire a prostitute instead of masturbating to pornography (I would think that simply a human touch for people who never normally get it is the big one).
posted by mrgrimm at 2:31 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Afroblanco, your question gave me pause because I've seen FAR WORSE looking prostitutes ... There are lots of people plying their trade out there who, rather than pay FOR sex with them, you would pay NOT to have sex with.
posted by jayder at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed reading this with a hint of melancholy. Although the Mr. Arnade may not meet the standards created by the council of high-art photography critics here on the blue, I don't recall reading where he sold his photographs/prints so that he's now making enough money from his apparently exploitative project to leave his forex trading days behind him.

I read this with melancholy because one of the subjects, actually the first person in the flickr series, Vanessa, could very well be my sister. My sister started her addiction young, before she was 13 I believe and has been on the streets prostituting herself since she was kicked out by our father, of whom I have yet to meet. I also didn't get to know her until she was 15.

She's stayed with me a few times and she is one of the most loving, caring people I know. Her emotional scars are more than I can ever hope to comprehend and I see why she chooses to numb herself rather than to remember what happened before heroin and what she has to do to get her money for heroin. When she's sober, she's just a beautiful, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging person, it's easy to be misled into thinking she can take over the world. Then a darker mood takes over. I can't identify with what she's been through and why it's so easy for her to be lucid for a month at most then dive right back into her addiction and prostitution. If someone like Mr. Arnade photographed my sister and gave her chance to feel like a human being for just a little while while she's floating alone in her deep, dark sea, I would be eternally grateful to him.
posted by nataaniinez at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [35 favorites]


Right.... and I'm just curious as to who these men are who'd pay to have sex with these really scary-looking, obviously unhealthy prostitutes.

I mean, I've never paid for sex, and I can't imagine that I ever will. But I think prostitution should be legal, and I don't even think it's morally wrong to see -- or be -- a prostitute.

I'm just curious as to the motivations of the men who'd sleep with one of the prostitutes featured in the photo gallery. Is the feeling of human flesh that precious to them that they're willing to sleep with someone who I would not really want to look at for very long without looking away? Is it some kind of fetish? It's weird and I don't get it, and that's what makes me curious.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:46 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whether or not he is exploitive, I don't know.

What I do know is that there is virulent discrimination against people who use drugs -- casually tossing using terms like "junkie" and "addict" and "hooker" is the gentlest form of that. People who use drugs are blamed for their disease, are often treated as sub-human, are jailed as a result of their addictions, and usually are denied the medical treatment they need to protect their own health.

I don't see how these photos are part of the solution to those problems.
posted by docgonzo at 2:52 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll tell you what bothers me about this- I'm not saying that I think he's being exploitive on purpose, but I do find the the entire thing to be so. It's somewhat condescending, this whole idea that someone of higher privilege is going out on safari in Hunts Point to hunt the big game prostitutes with their cameras and get some stories from them. It bothers me, yes it does. As does the idea that it's an act of bravery on the photographer's part to try to make contact with this segment of society (few would even venture there or approach them, etc.) It's an act of curiosity, sure. And these people then become curiosities for other, less brave people who'd never in a million years engage in any kind of conversation with the addicts and prostitutes and hopeless and desperate.

It's been my experience that the most desperate segments of society are the most willing to talk about their lives, to engage in conversation, to pour out their hearts and/or justify their actions because it's so rare that they are presented with an opportunity to do so and they are desperate to be heard. They are desperate to be acknowledged in a world that would rather pretend they don't exist at all. "Giving a voice to the voiceless" (which is a condescending though well-intentioned impulse) and along with a copy of their photo after doesn't really recognize their humanity because it doesn't give them control over their own voice, image, stories, etc. They are just being repackaged as "look at this sad prostitute, she aren't as scary as you think. I actually went to Hunts Point (*faints*) and talked to her and she is a real real human being. I also gave her a photograph of herself taken by a real photographer so she should feel validated now ".
posted by stagewhisper at 2:55 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the feeling of human flesh that precious to them that they're willing to sleep with someone who I would not really want to look at for very long without looking away?

Emphasis mine.

Last comment on this, I swear, b/c it is trivial and a derail, but ... do you not realize that other people have different aesthetic and sexual preferences than you?!

Now I can't even figure out if this is extended satire and you're just fucking with me... back to work.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Didn't you see Brent Owen's series of documentaries on prostitution in Hunts Point? We are talking 10 minute blowjob in an alley here. Nobody is looking at anybody.

Some Johns are equally scary and unhealthy looking. They are only slightly less broke than the prostitutes they visit. Really, we aren't talking Eliot Spitzer zipping up to Hunts Point for a $10 blowjob here.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


docgonzo - sometimes something as simple as giving recognition to our fellow humans on the street will start the conversation or inspire someone to find a solution for the ones they forgot.
posted by nataaniinez at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


do you not realize that other people have different aesthetic and sexual preferences than you?!

Yes, clearly I haven't taken into account the missing teeth fetishists.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:59 PM on February 21, 2012


Woah, check out this scumbag
Right.... and I'm just curious as to who these men are who'd pay to have sex with these really scary-looking, obviously unhealthy prostitutes.
Uh, Guys who are equally unattractive? Attractiveness relative, if the people you hang out with all day look like that, you'll start to see them as normal.
posted by delmoi at 3:01 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


"If someone like Mr. Arnade photographed my sister and gave her chance to feel like a human being for just a little while while she's floating alone in her deep, dark sea, I would be eternally grateful to him."

I am so, so sorry about your sister, and feel for you, and especially for her.

May I gently suggest that you reconsider whether someone taking her photograph specifically because she's an addict and a prostitute, to be be displayed alongside other images of addicts and prostitutes (and then later the attractiveness of said addicts and prostitutes can be discussed here on metafilter) would really help her feel more like a human being with worth for just a little while?
posted by stagewhisper at 3:02 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


He doesn't advocate for his subjects, the photos are neither talented nor flattering...it seems to appeal to his own prurient interest and exploit the subjects for that.

He's doing exactly what a photojournalist does: taking a portrait and telling the story. I don't hear anything exploitative in his writing. His subjects are being treated with basic human decency. If his exposures were a little more polished and this was being published under an AP masthead you'd have no problem with it.
posted by clarknova at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Right.... and I'm just curious as to who these men are who'd pay to have sex with these really scary-looking, obviously unhealthy prostitutes.

Men who are desperate. Men who are so poor they can't trade cash for sex, but maybe they have a bottle of booze, or some pills to swap. Men who are looking for a particular kind of thrill. Men who don't care about how the woman looks - what gets them off is her absolute vulnerability.
posted by rtha at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


stagewhisper - I wouldn't view it as "oh my god, look at who she's been bundled up", i would, as I have done with this series, taken it as an opportunity to remember the good in her and in other people and why human beings are not simple creatures who can easily be cured of what mental or physical pain they are experiencing. I would love for her to be seen, for just a moment, as I see her: caring, beautiful and intelligent. I can't control how other people choose to judge her and clearly others have their own superficial criticisms but there are also some readers out there who do see what I would have hoped to have been seen and that's all one can ask for sometimes.
posted by nataaniinez at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate how the removed and impersonal nature of the internet gives us so many more opportunities to sit in judgment. Nothing in the framing of this post indicated that these are meant to be artistic photos. It sucks that so many of us out there really are disengenuous so that now we're all so jaded and cynical that a series of photos and brief stories can't be taken as simple communication.
posted by sineater at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's somewhat condescending, this whole idea that someone of higher privilege is going out on safari in Hunts Point to hunt the big game prostitutes with their cameras and get some stories from them.

You're the only one referring to his photographing people as "a big game hunt". The photographer certainly doesn't frame it that way. It seems equally condescending to spin this narrative that this person is bagging trophies without any evidence to support it.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


to be be displayed alongside other images of addicts and prostitutes

If you look at his photo stream, there are lots of people in it, not all prostitutes and lots of attractive people as well. Not all of them are addics, There's this photo of a cow girl he saw on vacation, this guy who is pretty normal looking other then the weird neck brace he has to wear due to being shot, cute kids, normal looking old folks, eccentric old folks, a picture of himself, etc.

The thing is, these people don't sit around feeling inhuman, so it's not like they need an opportunity to feel human in the first place. In their minds, they're normal people who have just had a run of bad luck. And I think the images and stories depict them that way.
posted by delmoi at 3:16 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


May I gently suggest that you reconsider whether someone taking her photograph specifically because she's an addict and a prostitute, to be be displayed alongside other images of addicts and prostitutes ...

The person in question is the commenter's sibling. How presumptuous of you to tell him/her what he/she should feel:

"That's a comforting thought to me."

"No, it should offend you. Your potential source of solace is misguided."

That's seriously unpleasant.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2012 [23 favorites]


Also, who pays money to sleep with these really scary looking prostitutes? Don't they have anyplace they can buy porn?

Pretending this is a serious question - probably a lot of Hunt's Point truck drivers, right?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 3:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is something odd about this thread. No matter their circumstances these are people who made a connection with the photographer. They can decide for themselves if they want to talk and have their picture taken. I'm sure just as many people told him to fuck off. From his twitter feed he seems like a caring guy. He is treating these people better than some of us here, as humans he can relate to, not as an abstract in some sort of class power struggle.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [29 favorites]


I have found almost every one of the heroin addicts to be thoughtful, empathetic, and too trusting, holding huge emotional pain they are looking to numb.

This doesn't read as exploitative to me at all, but very sympathetic and human. I can understand why some people might disagree, but I think lots of us are seeing "forex trader" and projecting stereotypes of wealthy/privileged people onto the photographer. That was what I did initially, before clicking through and reading. Now my impression is that he wants to give people an outlet who otherwise don't have any, and I think that's a good and kind thing even if it isn't enough to steer their lives in a better direction.
posted by byanyothername at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sorry to interrupt the prostitution thread here but I wanted to comment on his photos.

I was a bit leery at first but I took a look at his other stuff. He has some fun photos from around NYC in there. The portraits in the series mentioned are shot well enough and they are not the typical student shot of a passed out homeless person from far away with a zoom lens.

They are shot closer, and if you look at the faces on the people there are a fair number of smiles. He isn't claiming to make their lives better, or somehow fix homelessness, or even speak for all homeless/addicts. He is just shooting what interests him, and when he has the chance he is writing the stories that they tell him. The fact that he is a trader is meaningless to me. There are lots of rich people that have all the latest and greatest cameras that do nothing but take photos of flowers or rocks on the shore. Boring.

To me he is someone who is curious and engaged with where he lives. He goes out and explores and engages with real people. He could just be another guy taking shitty HDR photos of graffiti or an abandoned shopping cart on a scary looking street or the aforementioned homeless person photo (turning it black and white to make it look even more sad).

There are so many people out there would never set foot in some of those neighborhoods, would never walk up to some of these people, would never talk to them and absolutely would never shake their hand. I say good for him. Getting someone that probably doesn't smile all that often to smile for a photo is pretty damn cool.
posted by WickedPissah at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


stagewhisper: "May I gently suggest that you reconsider whether someone taking her photograph specifically because she's an addict and a prostitute, to be be displayed alongside other images of addicts and prostitutes (and then later the attractiveness of said addicts and prostitutes can be discussed here on metafilter) would really help her feel more like a human being with worth for just a little while?"

wow I didn't think anyone would be taking the "least self-aware comment" title away from afroblanco
posted by danny the boy at 3:27 PM on February 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I apologize, that was completely tone deaf on my part and more a reaction to the turn that the discussion has taken here on metafilter regarding these women which has been dehumanizing, and not the photos themselves. I'm very sorry nataaniinez, that was thoughtless of me and I know you want nothing but the best for your sister.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


> I think you overstate the "raw" or "hardcore" nature of photographing the homeless, addicted, and marginalized.

Well, if I'd said that, I'd call it overstated as well. I was referring to street photography in general — shooting people as they exist; I wasn't referring to deliberately seeking out the indigent or addicts. Minor point.
posted by heyho at 3:41 PM on February 21, 2012


I would not have expected a thread filled with charges of exploitation and revulsion at prostitutes in a place as worldly as metafilter. Sad.
posted by caddis at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


stagewhisper - I admit I was offended but I did my best to not steer my point into a negative direction. I have hopefully given you a small glimpse into what it is like to actually know and care about one of these beautiful people out on the streets and that we take every win we can get. I know you meant well and I sincerely thank you for that.
posted by nataaniinez at 3:50 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I shouldn't have highlighted that he was a forex trader (I guess that has a lot of baggage here), but his job was a factor in one of my favorite exchanges of the set:

Eugene again
posted by chundo at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think this work is exploitive and I'm happy that the post was made. I am also grateful that I was then led to Charles le Brigand (a fellow supporter of Hunts Point Alliance for Children).
posted by unliteral at 4:07 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those photos by Charles le Brigand are great.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:26 PM on February 21, 2012


Yeah the thing, if you look through his flickr stream, rather then selections at Bussiness insider, a lot of these people actually look happy There are lots of smiles. I think this guy is trying to document these people and present them as human. He's a wallstreet guy so he probably spends a lot of time dealing with asshole wallstreeters who have no idea what poverty is like. If more people see stuff like this they may have more empathy for these people and support social programs. I definitely don't get the feeling he's trying to "other"-ize them.

Secondly, as to whether or not the women are ugly. Certainly, this woman is not appealing, But some of these people just look like normal middle aged women. If I saw this woman walking down the street I wouldn't think "crack whore", she looks like a normal person going about a normal life. this one has seriously messed up hair, but if she had a shower and a trip to the salon she would look pretty normal. Same thing with her or her. With these three the white girl has blemishes on her face, but the two black girls don't even look poor, or like prostitutes or anything. this one looks like she's had a hard life, but really doesn't look that bad. With nice close and some makeup she would look normal.

So yeah, a lot of these women just look like average middle aged women you see walking down the street. It's only because of the context that you know there's anything "wrong" with them. They don't look "sexy" at all to me, but there are plenty of middle aged women who are married and still have sex with their husbands.
I am also grateful that I was then led to Charles le Brigand
I actually noticed a couple of the same people.
posted by delmoi at 4:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


If a white, (possibly) hetero male did something you think is cool and noteworthy, think again, n00b!
posted by FeralHat at 4:46 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually noticed a couple of the same people.
Yes, they hang out together.
posted by unliteral at 4:55 PM on February 21, 2012


Prince Again

I was happy to be able to locate Prince, coming back from collecting pallets for money.

I had been looking for him for over two weeks, hoping to finally give him a copy of his picture. I have been asked why I bother giving copies to folks who are homeless. Sure, a few of the guys probably lose the pictures pretty quickly, but then there are folks like Jamie, who frame them and proudly display the pictures. Its a nice feeling to see someone who has so little have something to be proud about.

I also wanted to see if I could help him. I offered to pay his fines for outstanding warrants if he agreed to immediately go into rehab. He agreed. I hope he actually follows through.
Maybe the guy is just so exploitative that he's beyond the detection range of my exploitation detector, so he comes up as non-exploitative to me.

OMG HE'S GETTING FLICKR VIEWS WHAT A CREEP
posted by Flunkie at 4:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love how metafilter is worried about prostitutes being exploited by someone who is taking their picture!
posted by cjorgensen at 5:57 PM on February 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


Thanks for posting. I liked the photos and stories from his Bronx set and he is clearly not fixated on photographing prostitutes. I think the Business Insider post is a bit unfair in framing it that way. I don't find it all surprising he is a trader; there are all sorts of interesting people with quirky backgrounds in the finance world who do not meet the Wall Street douchebag stereotype that gets thrown around a lot (that being said there are plenty of those too).

I wonder what it is about that part of the Bronx that drew him there in the first place? Surely there are a lot of poor areas in the five boroughs...
posted by pravit at 6:07 PM on February 21, 2012


When I hear "forex trader" I think of some loser sitting in his mom's basement who has fallen prey to a get-rich-quick scheme, not a guy who works for Citigroup.
posted by jayder at 6:43 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


-Afroblanco-

They’re cheap. They’re helpless. People want to connect. Someone might think these women are unattractive and that’s all they deserve, or don’t feel intimidated by them. Some might think the women are attractive. There are endless reasons, you just have to get out of your own head.

I don’t know why anyone would want to have sex with Angelina Jolie, but I’m sure someone does.
posted by bongo_x at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I liked the Flikr photos. I don't know enough about his project or addiction to have a strong opinion on the ethics of the project, but at least on the surface it looks reasonably respectful.
posted by Forktine at 6:52 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don’t see the reason for the piling on this guy. I like people to create art, or whatever it is they do. I get tired of this;

create/do something
show it to others
someone likes it, maybe writes about it
a bunch of people trash it.

"It’s not as good as ___"
"I can know all of his/her intentions and meaning from the short article someone else wrote and I skimmed, and I think what they do is morally wrong"

I think this is another case of the criticism saying more about the person saying it than the subject. There seems to be a lot of projecting going on.
posted by bongo_x at 6:59 PM on February 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


There are endless reasons, you just have to get out of your own head.

And I get that. Really, all I was saying is that it's an interesting question to ask. Any conversation about prostitutes should necessarily address the johns.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:07 PM on February 21, 2012


And I get that. Really, all I was saying is that it's an interesting question to ask. Any conversation about prostitutes should necessarily address the johns.

Yeah, I wasn’t calling you a jerk, I was just saying that you have to realize that just because you wouldn’t, doesn’t mean no one wants to.
posted by bongo_x at 8:48 PM on February 21, 2012


My only criticism of this project is that it seems like a whim and limited. I can imagine him being interested in something else next month. This seems like a promising start. It will be interesting to see where he is in another 3 or 4 years when he has a body of work.

To the people being critical it's not like he is putting himself out there as a true professional and true artist. He's just a guy taking pictures.

I too have to admit I was horrified at the idea of having sex with any of these women. "Pretty Woman" they aint. Then I just imagine people even more desperate than they and got sad.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2012


The lecturing of Afroblanco is hilar.

We have ALL -- at least those of us who live in cities -- seen prostitutes who look so filthy, unkempt, toothless, bedraggled, stinking, and just trampled upon by fifty or sixty years of hard living on the streets, that it is a fair question, in an age of widespread access to pornography featuring attractive women, why anyone would subject themselves to what would appear to be the ordeal of a sexual union with such disgusting people. You can have all the sympathy in the world for the misfortunes of such prostitutes, but still acknowledge that it is remarkable that they are sought as sexual partners. (It's like crappy junk food; you can take a bite and say "damn I can't believe people pay for this shit, when such better food is readily available at the same price.") You didn't reveal cosmic naïveté by noting the remarkable resilience of women's sexual value in the face of severe physical neglect. You really were just noticing the remarkable fact that filth and degradation does not knock a woman totally out of the sexual marketplace. This is even more remarkable when you consider the not-infrequent posts on Ask Metafilter where smart, well-employed, reasonably attractive men can't find any women who want to have sex with them. For free.
posted by jayder at 9:06 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


And I get that. Really, all I was saying is that it's an interesting question to ask. Any conversation about prostitutes should necessarily address the johns.

Years ago, I worked in a shelter for a number of years. The people in these photos look very familiar to me.

It wasn't infrequent to have businessmen in Cadillacs or other pricey cars pull up and wait in the street beside our shelter for women to pick up. After the first woman I saw come back beat up, I started jotting down license numbers and giving them to the cops. One woman was beaten to death in the back alley, I had to ID her body in the morgue, a horrible experience. The killer was never found. So I can't speak for everyone's motives, but at least some sick fucks are seeking someone vulnerable that not many people care about.

There were also a lot of work-a-day transactions at 7:30 in the morning, right after the 11 to 7 shift got out of work. Very ordinary guys. I wondered how they went home to their wives and kids after risking scabies or worse because, god bless them, the women coming to our shelter were in very rough shape.

The worst part of my day was walking from the bus stop to the shelter in the morning. Cars would often creep along beside me with some scary and insistent guy or guys asking "how much" or making offers. It was just assumed that if you were a woman in that neighborhood you must be for sale.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:21 PM on February 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


It's probably incredibly naive of me to be horrified that this turned into a 'who would fuck that' discussion but here we are.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:34 PM on February 21, 2012 [49 favorites]


I wonder if it's more than an "odd pasttime". Being a trader, I imagine he's around a lot of cocaine and alcohol and users and addicts. These photos may be an attempt to try to explore his own personal life.
posted by formless at 10:35 PM on February 21, 2012


I get how this sort of project is kind of exploitative, and I was fully expecting to have that reaction to this guy's pictures. But I didn't.

A lot of us have had shitty jobs. Shitty jobs are shitty. How would you like to have a job that is considered a shameful occupation by so many people? As much as I hate to say anything nice about a Wall Street capitalist rape-and-pillage type, I think he makes up for his day job a little bit by presenting these sex workers as sympathetic human beings.
posted by univac at 11:18 PM on February 21, 2012


From one of the photos:
I call him Luis, but I am not sure. Luis is unable to do more than mutter a few words, often breaking down in tears. He refuses to go to the local shelter or Methadone clinic, sleeping instead in various spots, spending his waking hours bumming cigarettes and panhandling in front of bodegas.

I worry that my pictures put a happy face on addiction. Photos cannot capture the pain, suffering, and destruction wrought by heroin, crack or in this case whiskey. Sometimes it requires smoking a cigarette with a sobbing incoherent drunk to truly remind you what loneliness and addiction can do.
posted by russilwvong at 11:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


We have ALL -- at least those of us who live in cities -- seen prostitutes who look so filthy, unkempt, toothless, bedraggled, stinking, and just trampled upon by fifty or sixty years of hard living on the streets, that it is a fair question, in an age of widespread access to pornography featuring attractive women, why anyone would subject themselves to what would appear to be the ordeal of a sexual union with such disgusting people.
The pictures are certainly less dehumanizing then some of the comments in this thread. Seriously guys look at the pictures again. Most (obviously not all) of the women just like typical middle aged women, one has wonky hair but otherwise doesn't look that fucked up.

I wouldn't pay to have sex with them but really there are lots of middle aged men out there who have have normal, healthy sex lives with normal, healthy wives who wouldn't look that different from these women if you cleaned them up a bit.

That said, I mean I realize there is something gross about sleeping with someone who just got finished having sex with a bunch of other dudes who might not even, like, wash up in between. But I feel like it wouldn't be any less gross if the girl was good looking.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 AM on February 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


I can understand why some people might disagree, but I think lots of us are seeing "forex trader" and projecting stereotypes of wealthy/privileged people onto the photographer.

There was a photographer on Flickr ages ago - forget the name, but I think he was SF based - who used to do a similar thing with the homeless there. High contrast, tightly cropped on the face, b/w pictures that would rack up hundreds of views and dozens of 'great shot!' comments. They were artistically very striking, but after a while I did feel a bit uneasy with what seemed a bit like panhandling for Flickr credit. It made me think of the old folk myth about cameras stealing the soul.

These are different. We get some context, and an idea that the photographer has spoken to his subjects and found out what they were other than some photogenic junkies. I can react to them in a way that isn't just 'wow, this person had a hard life' and/or 'what filter did they use'. I was going to say his job is irrelevant to whether these are any good or not, but, actually, most people in his sphere wouldn't have any contact with folk on the street. I'm glad he's doung it.
posted by mippy at 4:33 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Most (obviously not all) of the women just like typical middle aged women, one has wonky hair but otherwise doesn't look that fucked up.

Come to San Francisco sometime. We have this neighborhood called The Tenderloin....
posted by Afroblanco at 8:09 AM on February 22, 2012


Mippy summed up what I wanted to say about this, and projects like these. My first thought was "exploitative", and hell, maybe it is, but at least this guy is going and actually talking to the people in question, and listening, which is more than I'm doing, anyway.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:20 AM on February 22, 2012


I've resisted returning to this thread because it encapsulates a whole bunch of reasons why I so rarely click on art-related links here, or if I do, why I so rarely leave a comment. However, this is sort of a perfect storm, where my interests and real-life experiences intersect, so I am going to do so in order to expand a little more on where my opinion is coming from, and also to comment a bit more generally on the necessity of context for online critique.

I never made it out of the first two groupings of images (the Business Insider article and then the larger set of addict profiles) because this post was specifically about that body of work. I can see now that his work encompasses more than just those types of images, and that allows more insight into his motivations. However, I as I mentioned above, I wasn't sure the artist was being exploitive on purpose. I do feel Business Insider, in choosing to only display the women in the set, certainly is, though. With predictable results, I might add: just look at the endless analysis of "who'd fuck that".

To everyone above commenting about how the photographer is not making money or trolling for flickr views, that's not what I meant about exploitation, and I think there's a deep problem with our society that everything an artist makes is put through a filter of judgement according to whether it results in fame and/or money- particularly since the majority of practicing contemporary artists aren't driven to create work because they think it will have either of those results for them. If an artist's main motivation is make money or get lots of page hits, they instead become illustrators, graphic designers, commercial photographers, etc. I consider what he is doing an art project, driven by his interest in his subject matter. Therefore I am judging it by the standards of art, and by doing so I am respecting his position as an artist. Again, I am not focussing on his motives but instead on the work itself and its subjects.

There's a few problems in this thread that I see come up again and again in posts about art or artists, and a main one is the idea that expressing negative criticism, or really any criticism at all, is being a hater and tearing down art in general and subsequently makes artists less likely to produce work for us all to enjoy. Do I also feel this way about drive-by snark or the endless "that's not art" comments? Yes. However, informed, considered criticism is the opposite of disrespectful- it engages deeply with the work and treats it as something worthy of further analysis or consideration. Most artists seek out this kind of feedback and are even willing to go into debt in order to have access to it. *cough MFA cough*.

I bristle at the anti-intellectual comments that are par for the course here- that people finding this work problematic are either Foucault-quoting academics with their heads up their asses who don't know what life is really like for the subjects, or that they are art-hating idiots who can't just let art be art, and let people just enjoy art for art's sake instead of analyzing it to death and sucking all of the joy and magic out of it. See, the thing about art, particularly visual art, is it's accessible on a few different levels. Maybe that's why I yet to read comments on metafilter posts about, say, essays or works of fiction where a negative critique of the work in question is met with an outcry about how negative criticism of a piece of writing will result in writers not ever wanting to write anymore, or will take away our enjoyment of reading the piece presented or even the pleasure of reading in general.

Here's the thing- I am not pulling my critique of this work out of nowhere. True, it's my personal opinion and it's very possible that people who have similar backgrounds to mine have equally considered opinions that aren't in line with my own. However, I've devoted a huge chunk of my life to studying every case history I can surrounding the issues and challenges of artists working within community and social institutions, particularly within underserved and at-risk subcultures. There are lots and lots of well-meaning projects that have had varying degrees of success or failure (if success is judged by the standards of improved well-being in the communities they engage with, not visibility and/or money for the artists).

The type of work that's presented here has a long and problematic history. There's a lot of precedent here, (some of it equally problematic, which doesn't mean it wasn't at the same time effective, groundbreaking, etc.) and therefore I'm going to judge this work's merit, its strengths or weaknesses, in relation to that. As far as I'm concerned, if you are working in this realm, with real people who are already at a huge disadvantage in terms of power relations and their ability to control how they present to the world at large, it's important that relationship to subject is carefully considered. I don't feel like the work as presented transcended these problems, although I do think that the fact the subjects were offered a chance to determine how they would like to be described edges toward something better.

These are not just academic concerns for me. I work as a teaching artist with underserved and at-risk populations, through a University gallery that showcases works by a lot of artists whose focus is on integrating art into society. The critiques and concerns I brought up in this thread are ones that I have to constantly be aware of as I am designing interactive workshops and when I am interacting with the populations they serve. When I started out in this field I also had a lot of what turned out to be faulty assumptions about how art encourages desperate and disenfranchised people to reclaim their humanity. It isn't something that is bestowed upon them from outside by an artist recognizing them as a worthy subject matter- humanity means that they have to be allowed to self-identify and have a large degree control over their creative voice. It's the difference between being the subject of someone else's story, and being an active participant in their own.

As an aside- this is why I feel Charles le Brigand's work is so much better and more respectful- these aren't photos of people standing still, unengaged with their surroundings- every one of his subjects, even when they are at ease, are depicted as being very much an active participant in a larger story and an integral part of their immediate environment.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:46 AM on February 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I liked the photographs, especially because of the statements from the subjects. I read every story and was touched, and I'm glad the photographer decided to share them this way.

As far as the attractiveness of the women? I guess I don't really understand the point of view. Aren't about 80 or 90 percent of all women a lot less visually stimulating in a general sexysex way than porn actresses/models? Still people go on having sex with each other despite not being shiny, glossy, young, perfect, and/or rich – or even close.

I just didn't see most of the women here as being so unattractive as compared to average people (and thought many of them were really striking, actually), especially when accounting for their day to day lives of risk, harassment, homelessness or semi-homelessness, and addiction. I also think the whole weird fascination with the women/prostitution angle is a bit misguided; I imagine that most of the male addicts would or do also trade sex for drugs or money (to get drugs) if they can. I suppose that nearly none of them, male or female, do it as an avocation or any kind of dream job, but out of utter desperation.

I can so well imagine being on that side of the chasm, wanting people to understand that I'm human and real and complicated, just like so many of my brothers and sisters on the other side who also have devastating addictions, disorders, and trauma, but whose social and cultural/class net maintains them, however perilously, on the safe side of the divide.
posted by taz at 11:09 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Oh, I should say this is not in response to stagewhisper; I was writing this in bits while cooking supper, and didn't see his/her comment. On that, I'll say that despite the photographer's constant insistence that he isn't a journalist, I am viewing this work more in the pure sense of a journalist or journal keeper – someone recording a certain time, place, or scene – and not so much as Art.)
posted by taz at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2012


Vis a vis delmoi's comment -- I didn't think the women in these photos looked terrible. I just understood Afroblanco's reaction as applied to the common run of prostitutes who have been ravaged by their hard lives.
posted by jayder at 12:06 PM on February 22, 2012


There are lots and lots of well-meaning projects that have had varying degrees of success or failure (if success is judged by the standards of improved well-being in the communities they engage with, not visibility and/or money for the artists).

This attitude kind of upset me in the first batch of comments, but I didn't want to chime in to avoid moderating the conversation. Sometimes people just do things they find interesting. Not every mode of expression is an art project trying to accomplish something. Who cares what his background is, how much money he makes, how original the idea is, or why he's doing it? He's documenting some pretty darn interesting people he meets and seems to genuinely care about them. Why does it have to have a larger noble purpose? Screw "let art be art", how about "let life be life"?

I think he really enjoys meeting these people and hearing about their backgrounds - I don't think it's about "reclaiming their humanity" as much as just showcasing the amazing (and sometimes depressing) variety of people and stories in the world (despite the fact that this particular series was focused on addicts.)

But if I'm wrong about that, I don't even care. I just enjoyed reading through them.
posted by chundo at 1:18 PM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think jayder got pretty much exactly what I was trying to say. I'm thinking of the Tenderloin or 6th St. in SF, although probably every city has a neighborhood like that.

And if all you think I'm saying is "ugly women, LOL", then yeah, we're definitely talking past each other. Sorry I offended your sensibilities or whatever.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:13 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am the photographer behind Faces of Addiction. I stumbled upon this thread via the traffic it generate (thanks!) and have mostly enjoyed reading the thoughtful reactions.

A few things that I want to clarify, that where left out of the more salacious articles.

1) This project started out of my work with HPAC, a non profit in Hunts point, where I started working with the children in early 2010. I initially did portraits of the children, asking them to pose with something important to them in the neighborhood. The intention was to highlight both the hope embodied in these kids and the struggles that the neighborhood provides.
Over the course of my extensive time in Hunts Point I noticed, like anyone does who spends time there, the stunning number of addicts and prostitutes.

2) I have made no money from my pictures, actually the opposite. These pictures are used by HPAC for fundraising and presentations. In addition, I give each of the children whos portraits I take, a framed copy.
Given the recent wave of publicity and the numerous request to buy my pictures, I am working with HPAC to organize a charity auction of some prints. All proceeds will go to them.

3) Everyone of my subjects I haven gotten consent from. I often go back and show them what I have written and posted, and get their reaction to see if I have left anything out or gotten anything wrong. If I feel that they do not fully understand what I am asking, because of being to high or confused, I either do not post or wait and go back and find them when sober to explain.
I do not take "gotcha" pictures that seem to be so fashionable with street photographers who don't have the nerve to actually engage and learn from other people.


Its very easy in New York to simply run with your crowd, to not explore the amazing diversity and perspectives that is offered.

Its also very easy to not look at those who are considered "failures" or "losers" or "marginalized" (choose your unflattering term). By not looking, by not talking to them, we can construct our own narrative that affirms our superiority and their failures. What I am hoping to do, by allowing them to share their dreams and burdens with the viewer and by photograph them with respect, is to show that everyone, regardless of their station in life, is as valid as anyone else. As Katherine Boo has so wonderfully said, "Maybe there are some things at work in deciding who gets to be society's winners and who gets to be society's losers that don't have to do with merit"

I have choosen to photograph the subjects in classic portrait style, with the subject looking directly into the camera, face lighted, because I want to highlight the person, not the neighborhood. I want to force the viewer to forget the subjects background and see them as humans, not objects. I have not put them in a studio because that is artificial and jarring.


Thanks again for all feedback. If you have more serious questions or thoughtful advice you can post it here or email me at Chris@arnade.com
posted by Chris Arnade at 5:54 AM on February 23, 2012 [277 favorites]


If I feel that they do not fully understand what I am asking, because of being to high or confused, I either do not post or wait and go back and find them when sober to explain.

This was my big worry (about their ability to consent). Thanks for being so thoughtful about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hi Chris, and thanks a ton for doing meaningful work beyond the photographs. As someone who has had their life impacted by addiction in many ways, I'm often frustrated by the general neglect and insensitivity that American society treat addicts with, & I feel like it's something we could really solve if we, as a society, were to actually tackle the issue head-on in ways that too few individuals are doing today.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


By the way, if you want to follow the project as it goes forward (and its not just about prostitution) I am on twitter @Chris_arnade.

Thanks again
posted by Chris Arnade at 8:56 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Chris. And thanks for tolerating Metafilter as we do our best to find the dark cloud in every silver lining.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2012 [22 favorites]


Chris, I hope you are still reading. Your photos are great, but it's the words you put with them that really touched me. I feel like you made an effort to capture as much as you could of the people behind the pictures, and I appreciate the glimpse into their lives. I would not otherwise have spent this morning thinking about the homeless, the prostitutes and the addicts, and wondering how I might reach out to them, and realizing that I could be doing a lot more than I am.

Plus, these are just some amazing people!

I love how excited Princess is about her picture, "I'm gorgeous. I'm the cats meow!" Here's a woman, addicted when she was still basically a kid, who held people up for drug money. She ended up having twelve kids, living in a house with other addicts and prostituting herself to get by. You'd think she'd be hard and brittle, beaten down by life. But look at that sheer joy on her face!

She's joking, she's putting on makeup to look her best, and either her optimism is contagious or it's a necessity for the life she's leading, because Takeesha sure seems to share that outlook. I hope anyone opposed to same-sex marriage reads this and it makes them think:
She has now turned to non violence and is married to Takeesha, her wife of five years. "The issues that we have in our background, we both needed somebody to love us without the sexual part, so we found that in each other."
I like how she's looking out for the other girls who are where she was once, too:
When we asked her about the teen prostitutes in the neighborhood she said "When I am out here no underage girl will be out here. I will call the cops first. They will go down. Ain't no kids be out here. I got twelve children. If you aint a legal age you ain't doing it. It ain't your pussy yet, it ain't yours. It aint happening... Adult men having sex with children. Thats a no no. NO!"
Again, thank you for sharing your work. I just wanted you to know that at least one person went away affected and motivated to do more to help because of it.
posted by misha at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I really enjoyed these Chris. Thanks for coming in here to discuss it.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:08 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Misha: Thanks so much!
BurntHombre: Thats a very good way of putting it.
Devils Rancher: Yes, its easy to look away.

I also want to add whoever chose the title "If I had all the money in the world I would own all the crack in the world" which is a quote from Sonia, I love it. I thought of that quote the day Whitney died.
posted by Chris Arnade at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's been interesting reading these two parallel threads, one about people who really want to feel connected and part of humanity and the other pondering who would pay money for a brief connection, however flawed and artificial, to another human.

It works, thematically. I'm not sure everyone is seeing the connection between the two though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:32 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


"She will give you the shirt off her back, if she has one on."
posted by pracowity at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2012


I thought of that quote the day Whitney died.

I had the same thought when I read Sonia's blurb - it's one of the reasons I liked it as a title. It provides an interesting connection between people most of us never truly see because they're too far below us, and people we never truly see because they're too far above us. Goes to show that throwing money at a problem is not much good without a more personal understanding of it.
posted by chundo at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Everyone of my subjects I haven gotten consent from. I often go back and show them what I have written and posted, and get their reaction to see if I have left anything out or gotten anything wrong. If I feel that they do not fully understand what I am asking, because of being to high or confused, I either do not post or wait and go back and find them when sober to explain.
I do not take "gotcha" pictures that seem to be so fashionable with street photographers who don't have the nerve to actually engage and learn from other people."


This is very good to hear, and unfortunately did not come across in the NYT blog article at all, which chose instead to highlight an exchange where you asked for a photo, the subject declined, but then accepted once they were offered some cash. It's a good reminder for me that what happens outside the framing and what gets included and excluded people's stories often largely out of their control- and in this case it was your own story as related through the coverage linked here was presented in a way that left out the level of autonomy and self-determination your subjects have in the work you are doing. Thank you for clearing that up. I feel a lot differently about this project now that the ethical considerations and process has been clarified.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Afroblanco: I think it's a fair question. If you spend any time reading the chat groups for johns, I'd say it becomes obvious fairly quickly that most of them are seeking what we probably imagine they would - a beautiful, sexually aggressive woman. The conventional wisdom on these sites is, "you get what you pay for"; talent that is much sought after usually goes up in price accordingly.

That said, there are johns who like a 'cheap thrill' and to whom any sleaze - or whatever word you want to use - is an added bonus. Some johns like to seek out the cheapest services possible for strictly monetary reasons, others find a prostitute who may not be conventionally pretty but is friendly to them or indulges a kink they may have, or simply strikes a chord.

Some too love the challenge of finding a 'diamond in the rough', a woman who could probably be making a great deal more money than she's charging based on the services she's offering, her looks, etc. These kind of stories - "I couldn't believe what I got for $40" - are standard fare for these chat groups.

All this said, the conventional wisdom on such sites is also that street prostitutes are bad news, if only for the threat of being arrested and/or the victim of some kind of scheme (one of the women in this series claims she no longer actually has sex with johns, and that she simply robs them instead), and to be avoided.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:57 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Afroblanco: sex isn't just about the looks of the woman, you know.

Seriously. It's about human touch. Even in its most dehumanized, asocial expression, it's about the need for human touch.

And the worth of a woman's touch isn't entirely based on her looks... even when she's a streetwalker.

Finally, as others have noted: your tastes are not as completely universal as your hubris tells you. There are men out there for whom these women are the highest-attainable rung in beauty. Fellow addicts, mostly, but they need touch, too.

I expected the ZOMG! It's EXPLOITATION! He's White And Rich And That Makes It Totally Wrong! reaction here. Boringly predictable. But "Who would fuck that?"... that ilk of comment disgusts me.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:55 PM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


On a totally different angle, Felicia makes me really happy! As do some of the others... and the stories sometimes make me happysadangry all at once.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:56 PM on February 23, 2012


As an aside- this is why I feel Charles le Brigand's work is so much better and more respectful

Interesting, Arnade and Brigand took photos of an old marine in slightly different contexts, together on the same day.

I have trouble talking about art other than technically. When I go to a gallery of course some images appeal to me and other images less so but that does not apply a global value judgement. Some of Brigand's are more clever, but 'better art'?
posted by sammyo at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2012


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