A short question and answer with Tony Fouhse who is making the very interesting User pictures.
Why did you start the User project?
I was looking to shoot a project, meeting strangers, setting them up into little scenarios and photographing the results. I wanted to shoot this at dusk.
I went to a bunch of spots trying to make this work. Mostly the people I met didn't have the time (or inclination) to participate. In desperation I went to the corner of Cumberland and Murray Streets in Ottawa, where I know crack addicts were always hanging around. In order to do what I do, it's important that the people I shoot have some time on their hands in order to collaborate with me on the shoot.
I was initially met with a certain amount of suspicion (of course) and nothing really happened. I was loading my gear back into the car, to try another spot, when an addict named Archie walked by. He saw the camera and asked me (and this is a quote): "Are you looking for a subject?"
I replied: "Dude, that's exactly what I'm looking for".
He let me take his picture, and after that I shot 2 more setups using different addicts.
If I'd have left a minute earlier, or if Archie had come by a minute later the project would never have happened.
When I saw the results I knew right away that this was what I had been looking for.
A few days later I took prints back to give to the people I'd shot. Other addicts saw the prints and liked them and my approach.
I've been shooting there for going on 4 years with the support and collaboration of the subjects.
What do you hope to achieve with the project?
I say, and I'm sticking by it.....all I'm trying to do is take interesting photographs. I'm a photographer, not a social worker.
I'm just trying to take interesting photos. But I'm also aware of, and have studied, the vibe on the corner and the history of photography. I try to combine all of those things, along with my own aesthetic predilections, when I'm shooting.
Can photography/your work change the way we see people?
I'm kind of cynical when it comes to this. But I'm constantly astounded/surprised by the reactions to USER, by what the people who view these images tell me about how their perceptions of addicts have been changed.
What do your subjects think of the pictures you make of them?
I shoot business leaders, politicians and all kinds of "regular" folks for a living but I've never met a group of people who bring more to the table during a shoot than the addicts I work with on that corner. If you stood behind me as I was working there you would see them arranging their expressions and their posture. You can see them thinking about how they want to portray themselves and their lives. They are using the opportunity to show the "outside" world aspects of their fact that they think are important to see.