According to the World Health Organization, addiction to illicit drugs is the most stigmatizing condition. Social stigma surrounding substance use disorder pushes the user to the fringes of society, rejecting and excluding community participation on the basis of a socially discredited health condition.
Eureka is an ongoing project which seeks to destigmatize substance use in Eureka, CA, USA. This is my hometown, substance abuse no stranger, and recovery a triumph. The California Report labeled Eureka as one of the “most dangerous and drug-addicted communities” in the state. Editorial news often relies on cursory symbolism to drive complex stories, which creates binary assumptions, preconceptions, and generalizations.. By choosing to focus on actual drug use, the media highlights individual accountability in depicting addiction rather than looking at the systems that create the condition for abuse. This subjects the user’s internal belief systems to an outsider’s lens, thus manufacturing the social construction of stigma.
I work to combat this by depicting individuals with substance use disorders as fully human possessing a range of thoughts, feelings and expressions. I ask the people in the photographs to caption their own image when possible to share the power of representation. I explore the multiplicity of where stigma is placed and by whom it is placed. Stigma not only adheres to an individual but also to physical spaces. When members of the local community come upon a disrupted environment that lacks context they often blame substance abusers for the disruption. I look for these disrupted environments to throw into question preconceived notions placed on substance abusers.
This work captures everyday life surrounding substance abuse to illustrate our shared humanity, rather than portraying a singular and sensationalized version of complex, politicized issues. Issues that have become commonplace in small towns and large cities alike across America.