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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Collaboration 2: Tony Fouhse and Stephanie

"Ok Tony, did you start this project to get attention on your blog or did you do it to actually help me?"

That is the starting point of Stephanie's interview with Tony Fouhse.
Tony is a photographer, Stephanie is a woman who is a heroin addict. Tony is trying to work with Stephanie to document her addiction and hopefully her recovery. You can read all about it on Drool (with a dedicated website/blog coming later).

What is your day job?

I'm an editorial and commercial photographer.

How did you get involved in this collaborative project?

I have a history, in my personal projects, of collaborating with the people I photograph. In some projects (American States, for instance) that collaboration is fleeting.  In other projects I'll return to the same place and people over the course of 2 or 3 or 4 years.

How did you gain access to the people in the project?

I met Stephanie (who is a heroin addict) last summer while I was shooting USER (which, itself, was a 4 year collaboration with a group of crack addicts).  Of all the addicts I met on that corner there was just something about her that I was really, really drawn to. Her openness and honesty and her ability to get in touch with her emotions, show them to me and allow me to photograph them.  I asked her if I could help her in some way and she asked me to help her get into a rehab program.  She didn't have even one piece of ID so we set about getting her paperwork in order and we are just now beginning to make appointments (to make further appointments) to find her some help.  The Canadian health care system is overburdened and 
everything seems to take a long time.

Is there anything you cannot gain access to?

Lots.  The risk-reduction house (run by a religious organization) where Stephanie lives won't allow me into her room, nor may I photograph the workers there. Some of the government and hospital locations we go to won't allow photography, either. There are also some aspects of Stephanie's life that are out of bounds

What are the problems with photographing this subject?

Stephanie is, despite her openness and participation in this project, also a reserved, private person. There are aspects of her life that she won't give me access to. As well, there are aspects of her life that I'm not interested in photographing. This was never conceived as a "documentary" project.  I'm a portrait photographer and, while there are some "documentary" aspects to what we're doing together, by far the majority of the images are setup, lit portraits. One other problem (if you want to call it that) is that Steph often (about half the time) 
doesn't show up. When she does show up, about half the time she is so fucked up that I spend all my energy dealing with that, trying to help and comfort her, rather than thinking about, or taking, photos.

What do you hope to achieve by doing this project?

Primarily, I want to see Stephanie get into a good rehab program and get straight.  I also hope to get a series of portraits of her that show that trip.

Were there any assumptions you had made before the project that you realised did not apply?

Yes. I (stupidly) thought that her concerns might have a certain overlap with mine.  Of course, other than the trying-to-get-into-rehab-and-get-straight thing, her concerns are totally different from mine.

Were there any assumptions you made before starting the project that you realised did apply?

I thought that I might be able to maintain enough distance to remain, if not untouched, at least slightly removed.  This hasn't happened.....I've been swept up.

How do you fund this project?

I use the money I make shooting for magazines, ad agencies and corporations.

What constitutes success for this project?

See answer to what I hope to achieve with this project.

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