Kat Bawden is a documentary photographer and multimedia producer. She lived in the south for seven years before relocating to her current home of Los Angeles. See more of her work at www.katbawden.com, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram under @bawdenka.
I have been working with a group of seven women and trans drug users in North Carolina to document their lives through photography. I led biweekly photography workshops with them for two months and coached them on documentary and portrait photography. The goal was to explore the intersection of drug use, gender and southern culture through images of their day-to-day lives.
These individuals come from communities with some of the highest rates of injection drug use and overdose death in the state as well as nationally. Our aim was to explore stories that aren’t often heard in media coverage on substance use. Women’s and transpeople’s stories are heavily underreported, as are stories of individuals who actively use drugs, rather than people who have “recovered” and no longer use.
The participants documented moments that outsiders often aren’t able to capture, with intimate images of family and friends, homeless camps, overdoses, hospitalizations, life-saving public health work, and moments of beauty and peace. They produced beautiful and complex images that reflect many drug users’ experiences. It was not an easy time in many of the photographers’ lives, but their enthusiasm for photography and documenting their stories was inspiring. “You taught me so much about photography, and capturing the beauty, pain, and realness of life that shouldn’t be hidden in shame and darkness,” said one participant. “This was an honor, and I’m blown away at the outcome.”
This project was a partnership between myself and the Urban Survivors Union of North Carolina, the state chapter of a national direct service and policy advocacy organization. The project was made possible with generous funding from Third Wave Foundation. The rest of the images are available at katbawden.com.