Vanessa. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/6561602655/in/album-72157627894114489/">Flickr</a>
Photographer Chris Arnade made his name a few years ago when he quit his job on Wall Street and devoted himself full-time to photography, documenting the poor, disenfranchised, and often addicted residents of Hunts Point, Bronx. His Faces of Addiction series, which focuses specifically on addicts, won him professional acclaim — and a little bit of viral fame — for its no-holds-barred look into the lives of people that polite society often ignores. On his Flickr page, he told their stories alongside their portraits.
Here's a selection of Arnade's most affecting, enduring work.
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Beauty, 21, was born and raised in Oklahoma, and was brought to New York City by a pimp who promised her she could "make some mad money." She has since had nine pimps: "I have been through nine niggas. Got my first black eye from one, another punched me in mouth, but this guy is good to me."Her mother was an addict. "She started using crack. That's when it all started, the walls started coming in on me. Now she is incarcerated. I can't blame my mom--she's my mom. I smoke weed, but not crack. I don't like that peppermint burning smell."
"I want to get out of this stuff, but I am scared. I guess I could stop at any time. Some of the guys tell me I could be a model. Money wise it's good, but otherwise, fuck Hunts Point. Maybe I can become an RN, or go into childcare."
When I asked her how she wanted to be described she said, "I'm a good person. I don't like to see anyone down. I like to make people happy."
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Princess became addicted to crack as a teen, turning to prostitution for money. She is the mother of twelve kids; she had the first when she was a young girl in East New York. Now she lives in Hunts Point, sharing a house with Takeesha and other addicts.
She was cheerful and funny, with a very quick wit. She especially enjoyed making fun of me for being "so white." After I showed her the first few pictures she said "no, no, that won't do" and put on some more makeup, saying with a big smile, 'no woman ever wants to look anything but her best for pictures. You should know that. You sure you're a photographer?'
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Jason shooting crack into his neck. The crack is mixed with lime juice (from limes scattered about his feet) to dissolve the rocks. The rush is more intense, more direct.
He found the vain (sic) using a makeup compact. He pumped the needle, pulling blood out first to mix in the syringe, before injecting the compound.
Within ten seconds he was up and pacing, nervous and paranoid. An entirely different Jason.
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It was well after midnight when I ran into Michael, dressed this time as Shelley. The last time we spoke it was before he had changed and was still simply Michael.
The police were out in large numbers, vans rounding up prostitutes, addicts, and dealers. Shelley told me it was not surprising as it was the "first of the month. They want to make quota." He himself was not arrested, although he has been "156 times, and I am counting." Prostitution makes up the bulk of his arrests, although he has also been in for drugs, possession of paraphernalia, and credit card fraud.
If he can clear thirty bucks in a night then he gets himself a room; more than that, a room and some heroin. One shot for the morning, two for the night. Otherwise he will stay out all night and sleep wherever he can.
I post people's stories as they tell them to me. I am not a journalist. I don't try to verify, just listen.
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I have heard some pretty rough stories over the last few years, Deshawn's is certainly one of the most powerful. She ended up on the streets at 11, fleeing horrors that we would prefer to believe don't exist. She became immersed and part of the open underground economy of the South Bronx, an underground economy that we would prefer to believe doesn't exist.
Barbara has been her "mom" since Deshawn showed up as "skinny smart 11 year old girl." Both are unapologetic about what they do. Neither is happy with Deshawns addiction to crack.
When I took this picture Barbara said "Take one of me and my girl. She's been here with me for twenty five years. I loved her then and I love her now."
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Vanessa, thirty-five, had three children with an abusive husband. She "lost her mind, started doing heroin," after losing the children, who were taken away and given to her mother. The drugs led to homelessness and prostitution. She grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, but now spends her time in Hunts Point, "trying to survive everyday. Just doing whatever it takes."
She was standing on the cold street corner looking for business, wearing only flip flops and smoking with her two friends. When I asked her how she wanted to be described, Mary Alice jumped in and said "She's the sweetest woman I know. She will give you the shirt off her back, if she has one on."
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You sleep in a broken car with no heat. You awake and it's five degrees. You do two quick hits of crack.
Then you pick. You can't stop. You can't stop picking.
You pick and you pick and you pick.
Its a bad habit. Its the crack.
It makes you pick.
You pick and pick and pick.
Damn it's cold.
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"He needs to repent. The life he leads is a sin and I hope he realizes it before it's too late." – Michael’s mother
Michael did not sleep, nervous about seeing his mother for the first time in four years. “I haven’t done crack in three days. I want to be my best.” Today he would be a boy. His mother would not allow him in the house as a girl. “I feel lost without my tits.”
Back to a tiny town where he was beat for being queer, where he first shot heroin at 13, from which he fled at 15.
His mother: “I have moved to tough love. The first time he broke my heart. The second time he shattered it. Now I have finally put the pieces back together.”
“I don’t like the choices he has made, the lifestyle. I will always love him. He is my baby boy. He always will be. If he gets clean and repents there is a home for him here.”
That night she made Michael his favorite meal: Meatballs and pasta.
All photos and text reprinted with permission from Chris Arnade. To view the full series, visit Chris' Flickr page.