“User” is a collection of portraits by Ottawa-based Canadian photographer Tony Fouhse. Taken between 2007 and 2009 on a corner in the ByWard Market known as an outdoor hangout for crack users, the portraits capture a non-judgemental frankness of the people behind the street culture.
The point of the title of the project, according to Tony, is that both he and his subject are using each other. (He paid them small amounts for posing.)
The controversial work has been shown and profiled around the world, but this scene from the location, recorded in Tony’s blog tells it all:
I was on the corner a few days ago, hanging, talking, shooting.
This businessman walks by. He obviously knew who I was, what
I was doing, had seen the photos. So, he walks by and, without
stopping, says this to me:
“You’re disgusting. You should be ashamed. What you’re doing is
disgraceful, exploiting people’s misery”.
As he retreated (without having the guts to stand and fight) he
kept up his muttering attack. I didn’t catch the rest but, believe
me, I’ve probably heard it before.
After he disappeared around the corner I turned to Bob, an addict
I had just photographed, and asked if he thought I was exploiting
him. Bob says:
“No. I’m exploiting myself”
As a social marketer, I appreciate the complex message of these pictures. The subjects are proud, present and alive in their own normally unseen world. Their rough edges and obvious desperation serve the purpose of warning. But their humanity reminds us why we should care about the people who didn’t just say “no”.
Tony Fouhse Photography