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Grit Street PhotographyTo me, street photography is more than just taking pretty pictures. At its highest level, street photography is about provoking intellectual and social action. I try to weave art, politics, philosophy, and social action into my work. Grit Street Photography is a high-contrast, high-grain, B&W style of street photography that seeks to invoke an emotional, intellectual, social, or political response from the viewer. Grit Street is a mixture of documentary photography, photojournalism, and street photography. Unlike most street photography that we see today – which tends to have no particular objective or message – Grit Street has deliberate psychological, social, and political intentions.
Tag Archives: Heroin Addiction
When we walked onto the Green Line platform to return downtown, I noticed a man and woman in the vacant lot below. The girl was on the ground unconscious, while her boyfriend stood over her crying. That's when I noticed that this was the same girl that one of my street photography students had just giving a cigarette to, not even 30 minutes earlier. We let our train pass while we watched and photographed.
In the end, they took her away on a stretcher, with the sheet pulled all the way over her head...
"How you feeling?" asked the doctor. "I'm fuckin' hurtin'- I'm dope sick, I ache all over, and you people come in here at 5:00 in the fucking morning poking me all over the place, why can't I get more methadone?" Shaggy growled in response.
I was taken aback by how harshly Shaggy spoke to the nurses and doctors. This was only Shaggy's third day in the hospital, and the drive to score some dope was already starting to rear its ugly head.
I brought Shaggy a stack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a large Mountain Dew as I had promised. He had also asked for something to read, so I also brought a copy of Henry Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman." Shaggy and I have been discussing aspects of free will vs. determinism, and how the struggle against negative forces is quite often just too much for some individuals to overcome.
"I think I've heard of that book," Shaggy exclaimed. "It's not a happy story," I replied. "Life isn't a happy story, so I'm sure it will be good read," Shaggy concluded.
I then asked about any updates to his medical condition. Shaggy informed me that the major problem isn't the infection in his foot, but rather a staph infection he has in his blood. Shaggy stated that it's hard to say just exactly how he developed staph infection in his blood, considering all the nasty water he's used to cook his dope. I've personally witnessed Shaggy injecting water from a public toilet into his arm.
"I'm thinking about getting out of here for a little bit today, go score a bag real quick and then come back," Shaggy admitted. "Well bro, I can't tell you what to do, but I'll tell you this; if you bolt from this hospital today, I won't be able to invest any more time into this. There are just too many people out here suffering. I won't hate you, I won't be angry with you, I'll just be disappointed."
Shaggy paused and stared in silence out the window for several minutes. Just on the other side of that glass, somewhere not so far away, is a bag of dope...
I broke the silence and said, "I know you're tougher than that, Shaggy. This isn't anything like being dope sick in County Jail. Just stay in this mother fucker and get this infection taken care of. If you bolt now, you'll just have to come back and go through the entire process all over again - IF you live. Right now, you have me to help you get through this, bolt, and you're on your own, brother. Fight the demon man, fight the demon."
I'll be back to visit Shaggy on Friday, if he's still there...
I was speaking with Teddy in Talkers' Park when I noticed Shaggy approaching in the distance. He was over an hour late for our appointment, but at least he had showed up. I promised Shaggy the day before that I would go with him to the hospital while he was being readmitted for treatment.
Shaggy developed a serious infection in his foot, and against the doctor's orders, he left the hospital last week without completing treatment. Apparently, Shaggy was told that he would need to stay in the hospital for two weeks, but after just three days in the hospital, Shaggy bolted out the door.
The pull of addiction is often so powerful, that even with the full knowledge that his infection is serious, Shaggy is obviously willing to compromise not only his health, but his life itself - just for another hit of junk.
"Hey man, I am so sorry that I'm late. I was worried that you had left already. I fuckin' overslept, but got here as fast as I could," Shaggy belted out hurriedly as he took in large gulps of air in an attempt to catch his breath. "Not a problem bro, I figured you may be a little late," I replied.
"I don't have any money, and I need to do some dope before we go bro. I have to panhandle just enough to get $20.00. Is it cool if I do that before we head out?" Shaggy asked with desperation written across his face. "Fine by me man, whatever you need to do, just so long as we end up going back to the hospital as we planned," I said with an understanding, yet firm tone.
"Hell yes man, we're going to the hospital, I just need to get some dope first," Shaggy reiterated. We headed off together into the pulsating city, Shaggy to make his rounds hustling money, and I to tag along and observe.
"Excuse me mam, I don't mean to bother you, but I'm trying to get the last eight dollars together so that I can get a room and take a shower. I'm homeless, and could use any help that you can give," Shaggy chanted as he approached people, as they went about their business.
Unlike some addicts, Shaggy likes to "hustle" rather than "sign." For some people, sitting for hours with a sign doing nothing isn't tolerable. John Lee on the other hand, preferred signing over hustling. Hustling is just too direct of an interaction for some.
Regardless of the technique used, a heroin addict MUST come up with the money for their next fix. An addict's entire being revolves around acquiring the money to score.
After two solid hours of continuous walking and hustling, Shaggy finally had enough money to get two $10.00 bags of heroin. I decided to wait in the Loop while Shaggy went to the West Side to score some junk. I watched as Shaggy descended under the city and onto the Blue Line. After about an hour's wait, Shaggy returned with two bags of heroin. "I told you I'd come back," said Shaggy as we disappeared into a nearby alley where he could inject both bags.
After Shaggy finished injecting, we headed down to the Red Line.
After hours of waiting, we were actually on the train and heading to the hospital.
Heroin wasn't the only addiction that needed to be fed before entering the hospital. Shaggy must have stopped a half-dozen times to pick up and smoke cigarette butts. It was almost torturous getting this close to the hospital door, only to find myself waiting yet again for Shaggy to prepare himself for entering the hospital.
Then, it happened. After six hours working to escort Shaggy to Northwestern, he actually walked through the hospital door.
After about an hour, Shaggy was assigned to emergency room number two, where he began to take his shoes off for the first time in about a week.
Once his shoe was off, a large hole in the heel of his foot became visible. I couldn't believe how swollen his foot looked. It was as if his foot wasn't really a part of his body, but rather some strange offshoot that serves no purpose other than providing unnecessary dead weight to an already overburdened life.
I stayed with Shaggy up until right before the hospital staff took him up to his room. I promised to come and see him Wednesday morning, and expressed my satisfaction that he was doing the right thing by seeking proper medical treatment for his infection. He'll be put on methadone, but whether or not he'll stay, only time will tell.
"Thanks a lot Chuck for helping me out like you do. It means more than you think," Shaggy said as I was leaving the room. I turned one last time and replied, "you just be cool and follow through with this Shaggy. I'll see you on Wednesday bro. Sleep well."
I was leading a street photography workshop when Mandrell, one of the heroin addicts that I've photographed, spotted me on the corner of State and Madison. "Hey Chuck, how are you? I haven't seen you in a while" Mandrell said as she introduced me to her boyfriend. "Have you seen Shaggy lately?" I asked. "Yeah, I saw him yesterday. He's really fucked up, his leg is swollen huge with infection, and he might have to have his foot amputated" she replied.
Later that day, as I was about to get on the train to head back home, that little voice in the back of my head was beckoning me to go and see if Shaggy might be in Talkers' Park.
Sure enough, when I walked back to the park, Shaggy was there eating hot dogs that the Make A Wish Foundation had just served to all the people needing food. His leg was wrapped, but I could still tell it was quite swollen.
We walked back into an alley where we could sit and talk undisturbed. Shaggy told me that he needed to go into the hospital for the next two weeks for treatment, or he would have to have his leg removed. He had a small abscess on his foot, but he stepped in a puddle that had dog shit floating in it. Now he has a blood infection.
When I first started photographing Shaggy some 18 months ago, he was a large man who was feared by many people down on Lower Wacker, due to his formidable strength. Today, Shaggy resembles a crumpled piece of aluminum foil, and has dwindled down to little more than a walking skeleton.
I'm going with Shaggy to the hospital tomorrow, and I agreed to come and visit him three times a week while he's in the hospital. I hope he stays in. Heroin addicts have a tendency to leave the hospital in order to quell the demon.
I hope Shaggy actually shows up tomorrow. I don't think he has much longer to live.
To see a person waste away
Dripping pounds of flesh like wax
Until all that's left is a burned up wick
And hard black ash
Blood poisoned by the wind and rain
Paying penance for the simple pleasures
Earthly treasures are only pain
And nothing lasts forever -Nathan Bowles
One essential piece of equipment for doing social documentary work is a good audio recorder for taking notes, and for conducting interviews. When working long-term projects it becomes impossible to remember everything that happens. The following is an inside view of my audio notes for February 6, 2015.
You were a good man, Greg. I'm grateful that you were in my life. We talked about this day, about life, about death - about the struggle for meaning and purpose. You were a true talent, and a good soul. I will miss you.
John Lee preparing his heroin rig in an abandoned East Garfield Park home.