Southern Etiquette: Gender and Drug Use in the South
A photovoice project by members of the Urban Survivors Union of North Carolina, funded by Third Wave Foundation
These images were taken by seven women and trans drug users in North Carolina. I led biweekly photography workshops with this group for two months, and they documented their lives with their cameras. The goal was to explore the intersection of drug use, gender, and Southern culture through images of their day-to-day lives.
These individuals come from communities with some of the highest rates of injection drug use and overdose death in the state as well as nationally. Our aim was to explore stories that aren’t often heard in media coverage on substance use. Women’s and transpeople’s stories are heavily underreported, as are stories of individuals who actively use drugs, rather than people who have “recovered” and no longer use.
The participants documented moments that outsiders often aren't able to capture, with intimate images of family and friends, homeless camps, overdoses, hospitalizations, life-saving public health work, and moments of beauty and peace. They produced beautiful and complex images that reflect many drug users' experiences. It was not an easy time in many of the photographers’ lives, but their enthusiasm for photography and documenting their stories was inspiring. Said one participant, “You taught me so much about photography, and capturing the beauty, pain, and realness of life that shouldn’t be hidden in shame and darkness. This was an honor, and I’m blown away at the outcome.”
This project was a partnership between myself and the Urban Survivors Union of North Carolina, the state chapter of a national direct service and policy advocacy organization. The project was made possible with generous funding from Third Wave Foundation.
"Being a drug user is so isolating. You think you're the only one in the world going through what you're experiencing, but you're not. It was amazing to see everyone else's experiences in pictures. It really changes your perspective. You really feel like you connect with the other photographers, even if you barely know them. I can't tell you how much this project helped me. And it was so much fun, too."
“I want to document my life. I’ve learned that it’s worth sharing with people.”
"You taught me so much about photography, and capturing the beauty, pain, and realness of life that shouldn't be hidden in shame and darkness. This was an honor, and I'm blown away at the outcome."
“I was excited to become more engaged with art-making through the process of the class. It was work where I could focus on a gendered space between myself and a greater society. I found myself drawn towards both inner and outer narratives in my life, and I think that brought a sense of it into my photos.”
"I was really struck by how much drug use is a part of my identity. I'm not sure if it's from sitting in [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings for years, being made to say over and over again, 'Hi I'm a drug addict.' My substance use and misuse is part of who I am, and internalized stigma and shame rule my inner dialogue about who I am."
"You [all] have touched my heart on such a deep level. Thank you for letting me into a little piece of your life."
Exhibitions and Press
National Harm Reduction Conference, November 3rd to 6th, 2016. San Diego, California