Chris Arnade is a photojournalist who documents the destitution and addiction problems in New York’s Hunts Point neighborhood. Chris spends time with these people and learns about their poverty, history, and the story of their addiction.
Roland (above) is one of these people. He lives in a supposedly abandoned house which he enters through a broken basement window. Chris did not share Roland’s specific addiction, but he did include this brief dialogue:
He is happy. “This place is better than the cave. Its not nearly as cold.”
He asks a favor. “I get to see my boy, he turns two on Friday. Can you come with me, take a picture of us.” He shows me the tiny jacket he bought for his son.
Chris’ simple narration is powerful, and so are his efforts to capture these people’s lives. He speaks as a friend, and approaches each person respectfully. Through this method he gets these destitute to open up to him and confide about how they fell into addiction. The stories vary drastically in scope, emotion, and reason.
I share Roland’s story specifically because it highlights an issue of trust, not only for Chris but for that of his camera. Chris earned Roland’s trust by speaking honestly, and perhaps more importantly through this trust Chris was allowed to record his counterpart’s low points in life as well as his ambitions.
This is a routine for Chris. He spends up to six hours each day on the streets of Hunts Point New York getting to know people who most everyone else wouldn’t give a second thought about. He has interviewed an upwards of one hundred impoverished men and women, and often revisits them to catalogue their journey. Many invite him in to their homes.
So much of photography is about respect. I suggest that it is the backbone of our work; respect shows the amount of care and detail in the images, and also how the author attained them.
After I had already written this story Chris sent me this tip: “Have no fear. Be curious. Never turn down an opportunity to learn from someone else. Always get permission to take a picture. The better you know your subject the better the portrait will be. Always respect your subject.”