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Remember Me: Vancouver's DTES

Read the full photo-essay published in Point of View Magazine: http://povmagazine.com/articles/view/photo-essay-remember-me

The ‘East side’ or DTES in downtown Vancouver, Canada is well known for its high crime, homelessness and drug addiction. I went there to photograph the true, sad and raw reality of this as I’d witnessed years before as a resident. My focus as a photographer was to show a different side to these people that live here, an open more friendly vision among the prostitution, drug abuse and mental instability and find a true understanding of the way they live, noting conversations and information about why they are in the position they are now.

My approach meant spending many weeks in freezing temperatures and long hours getting to know each individual, in sometimes dangerous circumstances in alleyways and unpredictable street corners where I was verbally threatened countless times by drug dealers. Yet I found the most willing, fascinating people to record for my project, who let me into their environment & personal lives so we built a trusting relationship meaning I could create an honest portrayal.

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) in Vancouver is well known for its crime, addiction, poverty, prostitution and homeless people. Most Vancouverites prefer to stay well away from it. Having lived near this part of Vancouver, I wanted to get to know some of the residents individually. I saw an opportunity as a photographer to collaborate and have a greater insight into their daily lives. I wanted to capture a different side of Vancouver’s DTES residents.

I wanted to realise the project not just as a series of portraits, but also as a social documentary. The street photography aspect allowed a certain freedom, giving a voice to the people I talked to and photographed, and a chance to see what an outsider would not— a more authentic side to their lives. I believe there is a spontaneity that needs to exist at the core within photo-documentary work, which has always been to document reality, candidly, by creating something beautiful from the unexpected. My work angle came from a compassionate, necessary, and positive approach to the individuals in the community.

It was extremely important for me to create relationships with people, and spend time with them so they felt comfortable in opening up about their personal lives; the trust we built allowed me to create an honest portrayal about them within their everyday environment. My interest stood firmly in treating the people I photographed without judgement. I wanted to represent them as they were in that moment, not altering the truth. I wanted to oppose stereotypes, learn about their particular avenue of life and raise awareness of the east side dwellers to people within the city and as far as possible. My most important desire was to use the power of photography as a tool for change to the people in this community.

When people view my photographs, I want viewers to see each individual as a reflection of themselves. Everybody wants to be understood. Nobody wants to have a mental illness or a drug addiction.

Oftentimes the people I met in the DTES were people who had fallen on hard times but they were friendly and willing to participate in my project. Even the most threatening, insensitive people were willing to listen to what I had to say, if it meant portraying them in a positive light rather than a negative one. For most, if not all of the people I encountered, addiction played a major role in why they were there. It not only in got them into life on the street, but also kept them there.