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.
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.
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.
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.
By Suzanne Stein