The War on Drug Wars.
July 31, 2001 12:07 PM   Subscribe

The War on Drug Wars. "Ashkan Sahihi is a photographer who is infuriated by the hypocrisy of the war on drugs. It is this hypocrisy that inspired Sahihi to take eleven people out of their daily environments, get them high, and photograph them." Does this project warrant attention as a political statement, as an art project, as all of the above, or as none of the above? Please explain your answer. Partial credit will be given.
posted by conquistador (23 comments total)
I think it's an art project, and it's beautiful. I tried to gauge each person's/drug's side effects before reading the synopsis, and I found that the pictures told me as much, or maybe more, than the words. The eyes have it, as they say. I have done a few of these drugs, and using my experiences as a baseline, the side effects (pictures and synopsis in this project) of the drugs I have not used scare me enough to not use them, especially heroin. But I loved, and laughed at, the hash/pot/lsd/ecstasy pictures. I could relate. Thanks for the link!
posted by msacheson at 12:23 PM on July 31, 2001

The best one was the hash guy: "Fucked up for: impossible to tell."

Does this project warrant attention as a political statement, as an art project, as all of the above, or as none of the above? Please explain your answer. Partial credit will be given.

More as a political statement than art project; the photos themselves were secondary to the statement and, as far as art, rather banal and not very evocative of the experiences he describes.

But in general, Sahihi's commentary - the political part - isn't very captivating either. The idea is a wonderful one, but he stops far short of the possible extent. To be honest, imo it looks like a semester-long project that he put off until the last two weeks.
posted by UncleFes at 12:24 PM on July 31, 2001

I find this kind of disturbing, as art should be. I kind of agree with Fes - I don't think the author took this as far as he could have in terms of studying the subjects. Or at least, there's a lot left out of the blurb we get on this site. I have a couple of questions about his methodology, though.

First, how did he find his subjects? He says in the brief article before the pictures, "It was difficult finding people that hadn’t done a lot of drugs. No matter what the race, class and background everyone seemed to have tried x and coke and other drugs. Only crack was untouched by most." Um, where was he looking? I know many, many people of different races, classes, and background who've done nothing harder than alcohol and tobacco, myself included. I might have been willing to participate if I agreed enough with his statement.

What kind of responsibility, if any, did he take for the subjects of some of the harder drugs? I know that these were all consenting adults and everything, but with all we know about the addictive properties of drugs such as crack and heroin, how much information did he give to those two subjects beforehand? And where did he find a nurse willing to stand idly by while someone shot up heroin or smoked crack?

I agree with the anti-war-on-drugs sentiment, and I think it's interesting and provocative to display non-bum, non-trash people feeling the effects of drugs, but what exactly is he trying to say? Is it really ok for us to go and get fucked up on whatever substance we want? If you want a really disturbing account of the effects of opiates on your body, read the afterword to "Naked Lunch". Made me never want to try hard drugs.
posted by starvingartist at 12:34 PM on July 31, 2001

He forgot this one -

Ecstacy Side effects: looking like a total dumbass, chewing a glow in the dark pacifier, pointing up the fact that unlike the gap models in the art exhibit, people on drugs can be annoying, uninteresting and unattractive.
Fucked up for: all night/until their parents had to come pick them up
posted by lawtalkinguy at 12:34 PM on July 31, 2001

I would prefer that he did a self portrait...this is not a statement about what is wrong with our "war on drugs" because all he is showing is what people are like when they get drugs with ease. and that is not pleasant. As for his statements: he is full of beans. Many discussion currently on drugs do entail (though still rejected) legalizing drugs and needle exchange (there is a lot of this in many cities)...
Why not show drunks (there is a URL for this I believe) and tell us drinking age should be lowered or drivers allowed to use and drive?
He may consider this art. Perhaps it is. But as a political statement it is worthless. This is your photo on drugs. Don't you loook like an asshole?
posted by Postroad at 12:38 PM on July 31, 2001

Er, don't assume all X users are candy-ravers...
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:39 PM on July 31, 2001

Wait wait wait. He introduced these people to these drug? As in that's the first time she's done heroin? WTF?

I'm pro-legalization but this...he's a fucken pusher, not an artist.
posted by Mick at 12:54 PM on July 31, 2001

Yeah, Mick, I kind of doubt the intelligence of the crack, cocaine, and heroin users if they've never done those drugs before.
posted by starvingartist at 12:56 PM on July 31, 2001

The exhibit, in person, is astounding. The pictures are quite large, and really capture your attention. I felt that they were interesting b/c they presented portraits of people as they foraged into new emotional and psychological territory, and presented them in a rather raw and direct state. I thought this art project was more about emotional honesty in portraiture and the various effects of drugs rather than making any particular political statement about drugs.

Also Mick, do you think he MADE these people take drugs? To paraphrase someone else, no one "pushes" drugs. No one takes drugs against their will. Dealers offer drugs and people want them. No pushing involved.

Also, intelligent people can't do crack, cocaine or heroin?
posted by gnutron at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2001

Good point, Postroad. If I hadn't been told ahead of time that this guy was anti-drug war, I might have guessed that these pictures had been taken for some DARE campaign or similar - "look how stupid you look when you take drugs". How, exactly, are these (not that great) pictures supposed to make me want to end the war on drugs? (I already do, but hypothetically speaking, OK?)
posted by binkin at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2001

"What should I do with all these pictures from the party last night?"

"Burn them, for the love of god."

"Some of them are funny."

"I'll take you to court if you don't destroy that one of me."

"Maybe I'll put them on my website."

"I'm serious, dude, I will put the hurt on."

"No, wait, I'll put them on my website and call it art."

"If you could work in a political angle, that'd be pretty sweet. But no way are you using that one of me."
posted by jga at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2001

i didn't really think these pictures worked as any kind of anti drug war politics or as particularly impressive art. i also found major problems with the completely unnatural environment he made his subjects remain in. who wants to take shrooms and have to sit in a chair with a nurse looking over you and a camera staring at your face when there's a nice comfy couch you can melt into in the corner? this should be called pictures of 'normal' people (whatever that is) given drugs and forced to sit through an awful experiment. which speaks neither for nor against the drug war, but simply the terrible settings of 'scientifically controlled' experiments.
posted by pinto at 1:20 PM on July 31, 2001

So gnutron, persuasion is just a phantom concept that doesn't really exist, advertising (the great Satan here at MeFi) has no purpose and causes no change in behavior? Psychology is just a fad?
posted by Mick at 1:22 PM on July 31, 2001

No, Mick, but being peer-pressured by your friends into taking a hit of acid or blowing a line of coke is much different than someone walking up to you and saying "Would you like to take ____ drug under these conditions and allow me to photograph you?" I'm sure he asked many people who said NO outright. I have a very hard time believing that any of the subjects participated against their will.
posted by gnutron at 1:29 PM on July 31, 2001

This could have been extremely interesting (I'd've liked to see several 'before' photos and several 'after' photos of the same subjects, plus a little essay from each subject about the experience: the viewpoint from a first-time user of whatever drug would probably have been much more vauable than a little bit of pallid commentary from the guy with the camera), but as it is it's only dull.

I can't imagine the photographer twisted anyone's arm to take drugs and sit for photos... but I sure, sure hope no one was offered money to do so.

As apt as I normally am to look for the politics underlying any discussion of illegal drugs, I have a hard time looking for any Statement in these photos. It definitely seems to fall instead under the 'art' category, where art == "why not, it could be interesting".

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2001

Also, intelligent people can't do crack, cocaine or heroin?

You're right, I used the wrong word. I doubt the common sense of these three people. In my opinion, all drugs are stupid, but these three are right up on the top of my stupidest-of-all list. I've seen some pretty intelligent people, including myself, do some pretty stupid things. So they could be intelligent - but I think they're severely lacking in some critical thinking skills.
posted by starvingartist at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2001

I guess not everyone has the same opinion of drugs. I agree that this site was pretty much just kind of boring. And I can NOT imagine having to sit in a chair for 8 hours after taking mushrooms while some wanker with a camera gets in your face. Talk about ruining a high!

Having done the worst of the above mentioned drugs, I have to say I agree with starvingartist about the common sense thing. My justification was my curiosity, but looking back I was pretty self-destructive at the time.

Now I'll settle for a four pack of draft Guinness :)

My goodness – My guinness!

posted by Kafkaesque at 1:49 PM on July 31, 2001

The hash guy should have been taken OFF of hash for the shoot.
posted by a3matrix at 2:17 PM on July 31, 2001

Is it my imagination, or is the heroin victim a dead ringer for Laraine Newman circa 1973?
posted by galachef55 at 5:12 PM on July 31, 2001

Oh, jeez, have we had enough of the prissy moralizing YET?

And the nitpicky tearing-down. What a bunch of whiners...
posted by DogLink at 6:09 PM on July 31, 2001

Well if ALL the pictures he did are the one you can see by clicking the "next" button on the linkpage..then I see no evidence that the guys and girls where actually "stoned".

Anybody can fake a dumb/happy face..that does not even require a talent in acting.

The author was probably looking for advertisement, and the only lesson we can learn (if any) is that drugged people at the initial stages of their drug experience MAY look perfectly normal.

It's the "idea" that he actually gave them some drug that made us visit the link. It's the idea of seeing how wasted a person can be when taking drugs , but the "image" that one can really see with mind, not with eyes, is "normality".

I think this photographer didn't do a great work, worth maybe minor consideration, and that his work may also encourage drug use in very weak minds by association "drug= not far from normal face".
posted by elpapacito at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2001

i wish my neighbor was an avant-garde photographer, who would invite me over to take pictures of me while i eat gourmet food and drink really expensive wine. that would be great art in my book.

but he isn't. he is an elderly ukranian woman, who never invites me over.

as for These pictures, i think perhaps the Idea is the art here, not the process or the result. Would have made interesting Video with the right interviewer.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:11 PM on July 31, 2001

but he isn't. he is an elderly ukranian woman, who never invites me over.

That made me look like the mescaline guy. Looking like the mescaline guy is a good thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:31 AM on August 1, 2001

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