For decades, photographers have represented heroin users as exotic, primitive, and dangerous to society — essentially as outcasts. As a documentary photographer and researcher, I attempted to do something different.
For over a year, I documented the lives of three long-term and vulnerable heroin users — Cheryl, Marie, and Johnny — in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. My goal was to show that their drug use didn’t define who they are. The photos didn’t tell their full stories so I asked them for their feedback about the images.
These are their stories.
For years, Cheryl has supported her heroin addition through sex work. Before starting heroin-assisted treatment, she lived in an alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She now has stable housing and a part-time job. She says heroin-assisted treatment is vital in order to help drug users like her avoid using potentially contaminated and lethal drugs bought on the street.
When Johnny was 16 years old, he was a competitive hockey player. After breaking his ankle on the ice, his dream of making it as a professional athlete was shattered and he started using drugs. For years, Johnny shoplifted to support his heroin use. Since starting heroin-assisted treatment, he has stopped stealing and earns money collecting bottles and cans.
When Marie was a girl, she dreamed of becoming a professional dancer and auditioned for the National Ballet School of Canada. Facing the challenges of growing up with an alcoholic mother and later on an abusive partner, she turned to drugs. Marie says heroin-assisted treatment has allowed her to reduce her illicit drug use and reconnect with her family.