Wall Street sta parlando delle foto apparse sul New York Times scattate da un manager di Citigroup e della sua passione di fotografare e documentare le storie di prostitute nel Bronx. Chris Arnade, 46 anni, spende un sacco del proprio tempo libero nelle strade con la sua fotocamera per scattare foto non solo di prostitute, ma anche di tossicodipendenti e di persone senza fissa dimora. Egli racconta anche le loro storie che di solito scrive sotto ogni foto, "I post storie della gente sono come le raccontano a me. Io non sono un giornalista. Io non cerco di verificare, basta ascoltare."
Vanessa: Hunts Point, Bronx
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."
Clarence: Hunts Point, Bronx
The "Junkyard" is a vacant lot on an otherwise industrial side street in Hunts Point. Its where many of the local addicts spend their time, gossiping and smoking. They bring their carts filled with what they can collect to sell to the adjacent scrap metal shops.
Its where I found Clarence, who has lived for fourty years in Hunts Point since moving from North Carolina as a teenager.
I spoke with Clarence, a former truck driver, for a long time. He told me all that his addiction has wrought: job loss, homelessness, health problems. Never once did he sound angry, bitter, or depressed.
Prince: Hunts Point, Bronx
In the awful weather, a windy cold rain, Prince was pulling an old air conditioner down the dark street. Homeless since being released from jail (two and half years for dealing), he spends the night collecting scrap metal and old pallets that he cashes in before sunrise. He uses the money mostly for heroin, an addiction that has landed him in prison three times.
From the Virgin Islands but raised in the Bronx, he is the oldest of seventeen children. He was molested by a neighbor as a child, something he is only now understanding.
Despite the weather and his condition, he was upbeat, polite, and engaging. When I asked him how he wanted to be described he said "Don't just talk about the bad stuff. I graduated from High School and plan on finishing college."
Cynthia: Hunts Point, Bronx
Cynthia, forty six, starting working as a prostitute at the age of thirteen. She turned to the streets after battling her single mother in Brooklyn. "I didn't want to listen to her. She didn't give me any time." Cynthia is now the mother of fifteen children, eleven of whom are still alive. Her "baby" is sixteen, her oldest child thirty.
We talked about the child prostitutes in Hunts Point now. She told me "Hunts Point isn't what it used to be, when the girls would stick together. Then came crack and heroin, that fucked up everything. A girl out there at that age. She got no choice. It ain't right."
Cynthia was strung out, agitated and slurring. When I asked her how she wanted to be described she looked me in the eye, thought for a second, then said "An honest person. Thats what I am. An honest person."
Supreme and Obama: Hunts Point, Bronx
Supreme saw me taking pictures and asked to be photographed with his dog Obama (yes Obama). I asked him why he was giving the camera the finger, he said "Thats for people judging who I am." I said "Who are you?" He said "A doped up junkie"
I told him I post the pictures online and write a short description, he said "I ain't mind people knowing what I do or who I am. Its me." Supreme and I chatted awhile more; despite the finger he was happy to talk.
I was worried I would not see Diane again, the police having nastily chased both of us away last time we talked. When we did run into each other, she apologized before I could, and suggested we finish taking pictures.
Seeing her in the cold, waiting for customers in the parking lot of a 7-11 at the end of Christmas Eve, got to me. The caustic attitude of the police before ("why would you want to photograph that ugly thing") and the indifference of the johns was too much. I took her picture, all the while feeling like crap.
Fill up on pump 7, three powerballs and a match five, Camel lights, and ten minutes with the hooker outside.
I was walking the dreary long stretch beneath the Bruckner Expressway taking pictures. Henry and I eyed each other, then he shuffled up to me and asked to have his picture taken.
Disarmingly well spoken I asked him what he was doing "I am a panhandler sir." I asked him how long he's been homeless. "Since I got addicted to coke, about twenty years ago. I was a high school english teacher in Harlem, clean, then my mother passed and left me some money. I blew it on coke. I lost my job, my family, everything."
'I got into hookin late, when I was thirty one. Developed a bad dope problem, lost my job, needed money. I once had a pimp, but no more. Pimp stands for "Put in my pocket," they just rip you off.'
I asked her how she wanted to be described 'I am an African american women, half Jamaican, mother of two wonderful children. I fell on hard times, but do what I got to do.'
Chris Bishop was drinking in front of a liquor store when we met. A resident in the local homeless shelter he told me the following.
At the age of thirteen, Chris killed his father, stabbing him with a knife after a childhood of abuse. He spent the next eighteen years in correctional facilities. 'When he was drunk and mad he would hold me out the apartment window and threaten to drop me to the street, eight floors below. He beat me and my mother all the time. I have been drinking ever since. To forget.'
When I asked how he wanted to be described, his eyes teared up and he said "I am human, like everyone else."
I call him Luis, but I am not sure. Luis is unable to do more than mutter a few words, often breaking down in tears. He refuses to go to the local shelter or Methadone clinic, sleeping instead in various spots, spending his waking hours bumming cigarettes and panhandling in front of bodegas.
I worry that my pictures put a happy face on addiction. Photos cannot capture the pain, suffering, and destruction wrought by heroin, crack or in this case whiskey. Sometimes it requires smoking a cigarette with a sobbing incoherent drunk to truly remind you what loneliness and addiction can do.
After I brought two cans of the super finest cat food..
· The "Cat man" of Columbia St in Cobble hill. The cats are named Unique, Special, To fast, Congo, Vienna , Rico (Puerto), Addis Abeba, and Damascus. I think I got em all. Now living in Manhattan, Eshete rides his bike over the bridge every day to feed the cats.
Scorpion Bar; yellow and Red, on Roosevelt ave in Queens.
It was around midnight when I ran into Takeesha, who was high. The police were out in force; Princess was arrested earlier in the day. Takeesha thanked me for the first picture and wanted to talk about her past:
She said her mother was a prostitute and an addict, whose pimp put Takeesha out on the streets at twelve. Takeesha had her first child at 13, the result of being raped. "I had a lot of bad experiences. I used to be with pimps. I got cigarette burns on my body. (They) beat me with hangers. They used to punish me, put me in closets with rats."
She came to Hunts Point in 1988, and that's when she started using heroin. She used to be on methadone, but she got kicked off Medicaid, the result of some missed paper work. When I asked her why she didn't walk to Mott Haven and fix it she said, with tears in her eyes "This place is so bad and evil. It's like so simple to walk across the bridge, but it's like you can't go across, you understand? This place is evil. It's possessed. It's evil. I been here a long time. There are bad spirits here...I have seen good people. I have seen people that have family, jobs, and they come here and they get dug in, and two weeks later they living in a cardboard box."
This weekend was very cold, nights in the teens. The police were involved in a city-wide crackdown on prostitution, called "Operation Losing Proposition," so Hunts Point was relatively quiet. I did run into Prince, looking for scrap metal.
Over a few cigarettes we talked. He asked me for advice. I suggested rehab, but he explained how he had two outstanding warrants, issued for failure to appear in court, so he could not check himself in. One citation was for being in a playground without a child (it's where he sleeps), the other for public urination. "That's how they keep us down, small tickets. They know we won't be able to show up."
Rafael is a resident of the group home/methadone clinic in Hunts point. He was sitting outside of a school bus depot, a location he said was good for watching the world.
He has been in the Bronx for over forty years, having immigrated from Guatemala. Of Japanese decent he is fluent in English, Spanish, and Japanese.
It took me a long while to locate Supreme, I wanted to give him a copy of the first picture I took of him. Everyone in Hunts point knew him, but not where he stayed. When I eventually found him, at the "junkyard". When he saw that I had brought a copy of his first photo, Supreme and Obama, he gave me a big bear hug. Always engaging, stylish, and proud he insisted on many more pictures.
Since this picture he has had major surgery (infected hernia), landing in Lincoln hospital for weeks. Prior to surgery he was living on the streets, all his possessions in a cart, which where taken away. He also lost his dog Obama, taken to a shelter.
Felicia owns the building where MIke Tyson keeps his pigeons. I have been a few times to photograph the birds and Mike's friends. Felicia is always out front sitting in her chair talking to the neighbors.
Super friendly she always keeps me chatting. This time I asked to take her picture and she said "I ain't famous like Mike or his friends, why me?" Because of your smile!
She saw the pictures I was returning to a few folks in the neighborhood and shyly asked if I would take hers. How could I pass by an outfit like that!
Our language differences made for a short conversation; I got her name and that she loves to salsa.
My walks often take my through Red Hook, where I have seen Big D many times, pushing his cart filled with cans, bottles and plastic. Tonight we ended up on the same bench resting our legs. His voice was striking, a deep baritone. I asked him if he ever sang, and he said "to myself all the time." I asked him what artists and he said "Barry White" then gave me a huge smile.......
Takeesha lives in a small house in the shadow of the elevated expressway, on a busy corner. I had come just after sunset to give her housemate Lisa a picture I had taken.
The road was filled with truckers, some returning home, others heading out. Both girls would shout out to cars and trucks, one's familiar to them. Various men shuffled into the house, heads held low, stooped, hands jammed into coat pockets.
All images © Chris Arnade
More Bronx photos here: Bronx
More on Addiction: Faces of Addiction
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