Street/Documentary Photographer Suzanne Stein is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. To see Suzanne’s gallery of photographs click on any image.
My first photo after spotting Jennifer on Towne Avenue, a desperate and difficult street buried in Skid Row in Los Angeles. She has a deep and disfiguring slash wound extending from the base of her throat, down the left side of her torso, and into the inside of her left arm. The wound is stapled shut.
Driving through the heart of Skid Row one morning this past spring I spotted a lady standing with a mirror, fixing her hair and applying makeup. Not an arresting sight unless placed in context, as she stood among a row of tents that line the block between 5th and 6th streets on Towne ave, an area that could serve as a perfect example of urban desolation.
My second meeting with Jennifer after having tried many times for nearly 2 months…happy to find her healing….
I met and photographed Jennifer and, on another visit, met neighbor Genevine and a passing friend named Sharon. All three women, ranging in age from 33 to 55, live on Skid Row. They all suffer the burden of physical addiction to various drugs. I’m not an expert in the science or study of addiction. As a photographer and artist my assessment of addiction is first how it marks the body superficially…. Prematurely aged skin, blemishes, unusual pockets of fluid retention, malnourishment. Although there are many resources in this neighborhood, meals served regularly and no shortage of food for those that want it, people can be underweight for reasons ranging from drug dependence and disinterest to mental disease and disintegration.
Jennifer’s neighbor in the tent a few feet away is Genevine… We are talking about art and drawing an Genevine makes a little drawing for me.
During my visit, a few people stop by…some welcome, others not. This is Sharon greeting Jennifer. She was a bit unsteady and very high but a real sweetheart.
Daily life in a tent in Skid Row means life without sanitary restroom facilities, usually a bucket in or outside a tent serves as a toilet, bucket contents dumped into the street. There is a characteristic odor that I notice on many occasions, on clothing, in and around people’s tents…a kind of old clothes smell that mingles at times with the smell of waste, depending on where you are situated and who your immediate neighbors are.
As I sat with the ladies, photographing them and talking about God, art, life and shooting heroin people stopped by, asking for Spice….a popular concoction of made of dried plant materials and then sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids, which are research chemicals being used as alternatives to marijuana available cheaply to especially vulnerable people for very little money. Spice is responsible for many serious adverse reactions and deranged behavior on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, Skid Row in particular.
Although Sharon, Jennifer and Genevine are friends in this neighborhood, they are in fact united by only two things: homelessness and addiction, as opposed to other qualities that bring people together, forming the basis for a bond in friendship. Family background, college life, marriage and children and common interests are usually cited as catalysts for friendship.
Some bonds are forged between people because of a mutual catastrophic experience–war, refugee status, prison–and can be unshakeable. The bonds that sometimes tie people together on Skid Row can be very strong….but many times are vaporous, transient and unsupported by emotional attachment.
Jennifer retreats into her tent to use her bucket (no bathroom on skid row) while Genevine uses a broken mirror to fix her hair.
Genevine blends and smooths the mixture of substances in her metal cup after heating a bit… It’s brown and lumpy and not yet ready for the needle.
Sharon exposes her breast…after lots of encouragement she covers up later…
Sharon sits down to get out of the glare of the Southern California sunlight.
Although she’s having trouble maneuvering her body without falling down, Sharon is stumbling away from Jennifer’s tent with a smile, hoping to find something to smoke.