Ottawa-based photographer Tony Fouhse started shooting the series USER, Portraits of Crack Addicts in 2007, all around one particular corner of Canada’s capital. They were all on some level devastating, including the straight on, day-lit portraits, but these posed night shots are particularly poignant. There’s the lighting, the controversial subject, and of course, the element of artificiality — the almost classical poses of addicts standing back to back, rigid and aloof, or lying in the street, or slumping in contraposto against a bridge. When you see their faces, the true emotion within, it becomes meta-textual, as if they’re playing themselves for the camera. It’s easy for something like this to seem exploitative, but Fouhse insists that he only shoots “lucid subjects,” and that each one gets a copy of the work, which become precious after recovery.
“I work with a camera and the cooperation and acceptance of the addicts I’m photographing,” he has explained. “They know me, I know them. We have an understanding. The work I’m doing there feels like collaboration. Some have said I’m collaborating with the enemy. They say that the addicts on that corner should be swept away. Of course, where they’ll go, how they’ll be treated is left unsaid. Addiction has always been with us, always will be. Lip service and knee-jerks count for nothing.” See a selection of his work in our slideshow, and let us know what you think in the comments.