Allie and Regina catching snowflakes after a close friend’s funeral. © Mark E. Trent
Last year, Americans lost 81,000 men, women, and children to drug overdoses. The opioid crisis continued to rage on throughout the pandemic, causing countless families to lose their loved ones to addiction. In response, The Bronx Documentary Center is hosting The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague in an attempt to let the world see into the lives of those in America affected daily by addiction.
Drug-related violence has reportedly taken over many streets around America, including Courtlandt Avenue, home to the Bronx Documentary Center. The photography exhibition is at once striking and devastating whilst putting a human face to the tragic tale of addiction. The show seeks to portray the human toll of America’s drug scourge. Those taking part include James Nachtwey, Paul Moakley, Jeffrey Stockbridge, and Mark Trent.
With the opioid crisis being the worst addiction epidemic in American history (killing over 64,000 people a year) and whittling down the nation’s life expectancy day-by-day, photographer James Nachtwey and TIME’s deputy director of photography Paul Moakley set out to document the issue over a year. They travelled the country gathering stories from families, victims, and first responders. Entitled ‘Opioid Diaries’, the series tries to wrap its head around how addiction has taken over countless lives whilst creating a visual record of a national emergency.
Dorothy Onikute, 33, a deputy sheriff with the Rio Arriba County sheriff’s office, responding to an overdose call on Feb. 4, on the side of the road in Alcalde, N.M. Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME
A woman, who goes by Jen, struggling to inject herself in the freezing cold in Boston on Jan. 14. 2018.Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME
Cheryl Schmidtchen, 67, being consoled at the funeral for her granddaughter Michaela Gingras in Manchester, N.H., on September 17th, 2017. Gingras, a heroin user, was 24. Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME
‘Kensington Blues’ is a decade-long photography series created by photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge. The series focuses on the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It features large-format photography, audio interviews, journal entries, and videos.
During the 19th century, the neighbourhood of Kensington in North Philadelphia was a strong working-class district and home to a diverse population of immigrants. Industrial restructuring in the twentieth century led to a decline in jobs and significant population loss. Stockbridge said: “As the jobs disappeared, the drugs moved in.”
Carol, 2010. © Jeffrey Stockbridge
Kevin, 2011. © Jeffrey Stockbridge
Another artist exhibiting at the centre is Mark Trent, who travelled around West Virginia for ‘Despair, Love, and Loss’. He said: “With the help of friends, I travelled to interview small-time dealers, addicts, and local law enforcement to understand the scope of it all. I never did.
“I documented my friend Allie and her friends and lovers as they struggled in active addiction and slowly lost themselves and each other. This group of women let me into their lives behind closed doors and gave me access to make this work possible.
“They were star basketball players, young mothers, and individuals that held jobs and had real dreams. One day a knee injury supplied the prescription opiate that led to the addiction that spread through their group of friends and community.”
Allie crying, facing jail time and missing Barbie who died of an overdose, after a long night of using. © Mark E. Trent
Allie in traffic after losing a close friend in her recovery group to an overdose. © Mark E. Trent
Trent successfully explores a crisis that so very few saw coming. The photographer and filmmaker is based in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His goal with the project was longevity; he simply wanted to see it through to the very end. And that he did. “I hope that this project tells a story about a small group of individuals who have suffered a great deal.”
The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague, The Bronx Documentary Center runs until 15 July 2021. Discover more at www.bronxdoc.org.