Press play on the audio bar to hear Lauren's testimony.
Despite a life of unthinkable hardships Lauren was intelligent, likable, and spoke eloquently. I learned much from Lauren about street life during our occasional conversations. One day she told me she was headed to see a "case worker." I naturally assumed that was some kind of social worker or therapist and I told her she should be proud she was making a commitment to getting her life together. "No," she said, "a caseworker is street slang for a mid-level drug dealer."
Lauren grew up in Germany as a U.S. Army brat. I was photographing her as she told me her life story, and the images of tears rolling down her cheeks were taken during this heartfelt conversation the crux of which was that she had her father's child at 12.
Around 2010 I heard Lauren was in state prison for several years on an assault related charge and I confirmed her incarceration on the prison system website. I think she has since been released and hope she is well.
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Press play on the audio bar to hear Corinne's story. Please click the share button below if you think others would benefit from it. Warning: sexually explicit content may be disturbing for some listeners.
Corinne, 27 at the time of most of these photos, was found dead on Valentine's Day 2016, at the age of 35. Her body was dumped on the side of a rural road in central Pennsylvania about 200 miles from Philadelphia. The media tends to sweep overdose deaths under the rug and most are never reported. However, the circumstances around Corinne's death suggested she might have been murdered by some kind of serial killer, and so the story made international news. An investigation found that she overdosed while staying with a man who brought her home from Philadelphia, and in a panic he simply disposed of her body. Read about it here.
Corinne recounts how she first smoked crack at the age of thirteen and on that same day was "sold" to a pimp by her own eighteen year old girlfriend - in exchange for six crack rocks worth maybe $30. From then on, she says, she was on a "rampage" and in and out of trouble.
Corinne disappeared for a couple of years until mid-2015 when I encountered her on the streets again, and I photographed and interviewed her again in August 2015. Her second monologue and additional images are forthcoming.
The images of Corinne drenched in sweat were done on a hot day right after she injected what must have been cocaine, or some drug cocktail.
Despite Tammy's hard appearance she was one of the sweetest and most thoughtful women I photographed. Tammy's grandfather began sexually abusing her at five years old and pimping her out to men when she was 12 or 13 years old. At some point, police intervened but to her memory the police acted like she could have concocted the story and she felt like they turned the tables on her. Today, decades later, she laments that a life of prostitution is all she has known since childhood.
It should bother all of us that our system will spend vast sums of money to prosecute her as a criminal and jail her, yet do virtually nothing to help improve the quality of her life and self image.
Daisy's striking blue eyes and intense gaze convey wisdom far beyond her 21 years. Her body was peppered with track marks and cigar burns which she was not shy about revealing. Daisy has an incredibly upbeat and happy-go-lucky personality from which we can all learn. Everything seems to roll off Daisy's back, and she recounts experiences that would leave others with PTSD as if they were mere misadventures. She laughs off her own kidnapping, torture, assaults, and many other slings and arrows that street life has thrown her way. I have not seen her since the time of these images several years ago.
Jocelyn, 21 at the time of these photos, was murdered about six months later in August 2011. Jocelyn was a gentle soul and often lamented her situation as she does when she describes her life, and she seems to foresee death as one of her only possible outcomes. Just a few weeks before her death she expressed interest in another photo sitting, and I regret not setting aside the time to do it.
I did not pose Jocelyn with her hands at her head, and I must have just clicked the shutter to capture that moment. Later, I understood that it is as if she is holding a mask up to her face - to her real self - and implying "This is not the real me," for under the drug-damaged skin and tough demeanor was a thoughtful and pretty girl.
Jocelyn was murdered around 4 a.m. one summer night; shot in the head execution style just steps off busy Kensington Avenue. To date, no one has been arrested, but word on the street was that a former boyfriend killed her in retribution for stealing a sizable hidden cache of his drugs.
Jocelyn's Facebook page remains online, and she left us with an irony: she lists Cold Case Files among her favorite shows, and I think as in the show justice will somehow eventually be served.
Megan, 32 here, describes how her mother routinely drugged her as a child and allowed drug dealers to rape her in exchange for drugs. Despite her height of nearly six feet there is a childlike quality to her conveyed by her frock dress, hair ribbon, and the way she holds her hands, as if she is Shirley Temple about to curtsy. I have not seen Megan since she appeared some years ago for a short while.
Angela died due to overdose in December 2014, a few years after these images were made.
Angela grew up near my studio and I often saw her on my block.
Angela disappeared for a few years and resurfaced around 2012 looking many years older than she does here, and she expressed interest in being photographed again whenever I saw her. Angela was a gentle soul, which is conveyed in her eyes.
Warning: Mandi's audio monologue contains explicit content.
I photographed Mandi a few times over the years and at the time of her interview she was 25. Mandi is a born artist who should have gotten into creative arts or fashion, but was probably raised in an environment where such opportunities did not come easily. She made the beaded necklaces and jewelry that adorn her, usually dyed her hair some shade of fuscia or cerulean, and was always dressed in some very eccentric outfit. Mandi disappears for long periods but she tends to return to the street now and then. Her description of her life is painful to hear when all she clearly wants is love and encouragement from her family.
Pushing forty years old at the time of these images, Tia is a decade or two older than most of my subjects and her age gives her a viewpoint that many of the younger girls lack. At the time these images were made doctors told Tia she did not have long to live due to cancer and she was a point where very little scared her. Tia spoke of incredible police corruption that she has experienced first hand, from Philadelphia cops coercing her into having sex, to a suburban police chief giving her drugs from the evidence room and placing her in an apartment paid for with public funds on the pretext that she was an informant - so that cops could use her for sex.
The interesting thing is that when I did an internet search for the suburban town in question, there were many articles about clashes between the mayor's office and the police department and allegations of the evidence room being in disarray. The police chief has since retired.
Jamie is unique to this project in that she is the only woman who says she is not an addict and I tend to believe her (others have told me they are not addicts and later admitted to lying). As she relates, she hit the streets to pay her mortgage and family bills after her husband was hit by stray bullets and put into a coma. Jamie has a college education, is intelligent and tells us in no uncertain terms what life on the streets is like for her and others like her.
I first photographed Crystal around 2009 when she was eighteen (the black and white portraits) and had not been on the street for long. She sheepishly admitted she's been working the street since she was seventeen. She's statuesque at 5'10 and has an innocent baby face which makes her very popular and looked after.
I photographed her again a few years later on the street in October 2013 and the years changed her: when I first met her she only smoked marijuana. It was not long before she began to shoot heroin and I once saw her on the side of the street while sticking a needle in her arm in plain view of passerby.
Crystal gave birth to a child who is in the custody of her family. Her longtime boyfriend was also a homeless addict ten years her senior, and I routinely saw them together before he was sent to jail. She'd work the street alongside him and bring back the money to get them both high.
I'd often drive down a barren street where I'd see Crystal huddled under blankets with other homeless addicts in an attempt to stay warm on unseasonably cold autumn nights, like this one in October 2013. She told me her boyfriend was in jail and her "friends" recently slipped her engagement ring off her finger as she slept.
Nicole, 26, is a mother. September 2013.
Maria is very friendly and was happy to talk about herself. I often saw her walking the streets, though after her portrait sitting a period of a few years passed since I would see her: I was in a corner grocery store in Kensington when a woman who seemed too pretty, upscale, and stylish for the area walked in and seemed to know everyone. She seemed very out of her element until I heard her speak and recognized her voice. It was Maria and she looked shockingly good. Her teeth were refashioned into a winning smile, and she had a nice car parked outside. She said she had stopped using drugs (that was obvious), was doing great, and simply had no interest in going back to the life she led.
Melissa and Dre are a lesbian couple who met in jail and worked the streets together, at least around the time this photo was taken (Spring 2012) soon after Dre was released from jail. While in jail Dre gave birth to a child, and the two along with Dre's parents raise Dre's two kids. Melissa and Dre are on again and off again, and as of mid-2015 I saw Melissa on the streets often. A couple of times a year I drive past Dre while she's pushing a baby carriage, but have not seen her working the street since a few months after this photo was taken. Dre's recent stint in jail was not her first - she did time some years ago for a string of home burglaries.
Kat, 27, is a real Bohemian musician whose petite build, masculine clothes, and androgynous Native American features give her the appearance of a fifteen year old boy. She says some Johns are disappointed when they learn she is not one. Kat worked the street with her girlfriend who did not want to be photographed. I frequently saw them over a period of some months around the time these photos were made around October 2013, but they have since disappeared.
Marissa, 21. Behind her street-weathered looks is a pre-Raphaelite kind of beauty.
Traná (pronounced Tra-nay) died from an overdose on Halloween 2013. She had been in jail a few months, and upon release made a beeline for drugs. She overdosed with her first injection.
Traná's "God's Gift" shoulder tattoo gives an idea of her precocious personality. Blonde, five feet tall, and nineteen at the time of these photos, she would have made the consummate saleswoman, though she said she wanted to someday have a restaurant.
In 2012 Traná fell quite ill and went to the local Episcopal Hospital emergency room. The doctors misdiagnosed her and sent her on her way with an aspirin. Some days later she wound up at Temple Hospital and was placed in intensive care for several weeks for endocarditis (a heart infection) and was a candidate for open heart surgery. Such infections usually arise from contaminated needles or contaminated heroin, along with a weakened immune system. She was bedridden for several weeks and against doctors' pleadings checked herself out of the hospital prior to heart surgery to return to the street and heroin use.
Traná's specialized acute care costs likely totaled several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I met another addict whose bill for a similar infection and surgery was, if I recall, $700,000. These are a mere two instances which have likely exceeded a million dollars in healthcare costs which are ultimately are passed onto society, taxpayers, and the healthcare system with little or no direct economic consequence to the drug users or traffickers.
I saw Traná a couple of times after that close brush with death and she said she felt fine, and looked it, but her luck did not last long.
Dominique worked in a lawyer's office and said she struggled on and off with addiction. The pallid tones of her skin and clothes blend in with the concrete wasteland all around her, yet the vestiges of her beauty, good bone structure, and kindly eyes show through.
Nicole was a good source of information about street life. Whenever she was out working her husband was always watching from a short distance away - whether for her safety, or to make sure she declares all her earnings I do not know.
I had not seen Nicole for about a year when I was stopped at a stop light in Kensington when she hollered "Hey, it's me, Nicole!" She was about seventy pounds heavier and unrecognizable after a year in prison. She had just gotten out of prison three days earlier and made a beeline to the street, as is often the case.
I have photographed Stacy a few times over the years as she was 21 through 23. She seemed to be in and out of rehab, and always passing from one misfortune to another.
Since I've known Stacy, she's given birth, her mother died from a tumor, and her brother died in an accident. At some point she fell into a drug induced sleep next to a space heater which cooked her shoulder until it was a third degree burn and her shoulder shows terrible scarring.
In her interview Stacy speaks about being enslaved by a group operating out of a Philadelphia Ramada hotel. Pimps kidnapped her and kept her captive in the hotel, where she was forced into prostitution slavery. Police eventually raided the rooms and the organizers were jailed and convicted.
Interestingly, media accounts differ from Stacy's story. Stacy said she was able to inform her family where she was being held prisoner, and her family contacted the police. Despite being told that Stacy and others were being held captive, the police told the family they had no probable cause to do anything. However, when the police heard Stacy was a fugitive - she had a warrant for her arrest - that piqued police interest even if a group of kidnapped girls would not. Police raided the hotel rooms intending to arrest her and in so doing found evidence of the sex slavery ring. Media accounts implied that police busted the ring through their own due diligence when in fact, from what Stacy tells us, the police initially ignored the family's calls for help. To be fair, the police might in good faith tell another version of the story.
Her street name is Marcy and I have not seen her in a few years. The intensity of her stare tells us that she is a woman who has been battered physically and spiritually. I only remember that she said her fifteen year old stepdaughter was raped, murdered and dumped just blocks away from my building by her husband's best friend who was later convicted for the crime. I don't remember what happened to her eye, but I think it's the remnant of a black eye, interestingly in the symbolic shape of a tear.
I photographed Brittany, 21 at the time of these photos, once in studio and a couple times in a desolate industrial area near her home. She's a lifelong resident of northern Philadelphia and her auburn hair and Irish surname certainly derive from north Philadelphia's early Irish settlers. I frequently drive past her small rowhome where she lives with her mother, sister, and daughter whose name is Neveah, which is Heaven spelled backwards. Words such as "Sexy" and "Major Trouble" on her clothing and body always seem to play some role in her image, which is interesting because she cannot read. The fact that she chose a world spelled backwards for her daughter's name makes me wonder if she's always simply been an undiagnosed dyslexic who fell into the illiteracy crack. Brittany's drug of choice at the time I photographed her seemed to be a drug called "wet," which is simply a cigarette dipped into liquid PCP that packs an awfully noxious formaldyhyde odor from several feet away. I can't imagine what it's like to smoke it, but reports say it causes delusions and severe anxiety. Brittany reappeared in mid-2015 and she says she is doing well.
Rose has a southern charm, and her charismatic personality and good looks could have taken her far. Rose disappeared soon after her photo session, and reappeared a couple of years later in August 2015. When I showed her this site she glossed right over her picture without recognizing herself, and was amazed at how thin she looked. She now has a car and place to live, but her expensive addiction has forced a return to the streets.
The twins, 18 at the time of the photos, are from the local area and likely grew up in the drug culture; the R.I.P tattoo and dirty nails give some indication of a hard life. I would sometimes see them working the street together and occasionally pass by one or the other while driving in the area.
Some years passed where I would only see one of them from time to time and thought perhaps the other had died. But in February 2014 I encountered them working the street together and obtained their phone number with the idea of doing another photo session and an interview. I will do so as funding allows.
Ashley is from the neighborhood and I photographed her a few times over the years. She's exceedingly polite and always asking for a dollar to buy an ice cream. She often lamented how her parents would not let her visit her own daughter. After a long period of being clean Ashley resurfaced on the streets in mid-2015.
Jacqueline was an aircraft mechanic and mother before she was sucked into street life. Her monologue begins with her on the phone telling her boyfriend why she has been out of touch, and making up a story as to her whereabouts. I have not seen her since around the time these photos were taken, so hope she has gotten her life back in order.
Pamela's drug of choice is Xanax, or what she would often refer to as "Zannies," and I would sometimes see her on the steps of the local subway stop in a total somnabulist state after downing several pills. Pamela's pastime is boxing, and she said she likes drawing blood.
My first shoot with Pamela and her friend Tanya was done about two years prior to this one. Tanya has since died from drug and immune deficiency related diseases. The images and interview from that sitting will be posted as funding allows.
When I met Darlene she was deep into the street life and her situation seemed hopeless. She had gone to Catholic school, worked in a medical office, and had two children before she fell into drugs. Still, whenever I saw Darlene she almost always had a great smile and happy attitude. A few years after these images were made Darlene had gotten clean and found a job. From the looks of her Facebook page she seems happy, caring for her kids, and with a new man in her life.
Darlene's monologue opens with her toking on her crack pipe - you will hear the crack crackling as it burns and understand the origin of its name.
Kelly was often visible on the streets for about a year, and typically with her perpetually-shirtless boyfriend. I don't remember too much about her except that she was adopted, had had a child, and was pregnant again at the time these photos were taken. Her hair was actually gray, and not blonde as it appears in black and white. She said she played the piano. She seemed out of place on the street, but so do many of the girls. I have not seen her in a few years.
Jessie was on the streets only about a month when I met her and she seemed very out of place. She was charming and happy to talk about her situation, as one can gather from her voice.
By the age of 21 Jessie was enjoying the life of an ambitious and successful hair stylist at an upscale salon in the suburbs. She bought a house, traveled the world, and led the life of a socialite - before heroin began to take it all away at 22. Here, she is 26.
I have not seen her for some years since around the time I photographed her, so hopefully soon thereafter she took control of her life after her little misadventure. Jessie is a perfect example of how anyone can be sucked into the abyss.
I caught Trisha, 21, entering her second week working as a prostitute and she seems to have the maturity of someone much older, and has a keen ability to analyze her own life. Track mark scars ran across her bicep.
I saw Trisha around the streets on and off for a year or two after her portrait sitting and she has since disappeared. I looked her up on Facebook and see that as of 2014 she is alive and smiling, though I don't know if she is still working the streets. I will try to bring her back for a new photo session and interview to find out how the streets treated her since her first week of tricking.
I found D's haunting blue eyes and angular bone structure the stuff of which great portraits are made. I think she said she grew up in the neighborhood. She lived around the corner from me and some time after these photos were made she seemed to have gotten her life in order. I often saw her sitting on the stoop of her rowhome, or pushing a baby stroller with her man. She apparently left the neighborhood around 2013 and I have not seen her since.
Angel was one of very few transgenders working the streets of Kensington. Angel was from the Bronx, appeared for a few days and then disappeared.
Veronica is intelligent, and a good conversationalist on a variety of topics as her Sanskrit and Buddhist-inspired tattoos would indicate. I had chatted with her a few times in the months prior to her photo sitting. Throughout that time I think street life had broken some of her mind, for as I was taking these photos she was complaining of bugs crawling inside and up and down her skin, which she was certain were there despite my protestations. She'd point to a bit of dust on her arm and, exasperated at my lack of perception, exclaim "See!"
After some research I learned that such a sensation and hallucination is called delusional parasitosis and is a form of psychosis that sometimes arises with drug use. Some weeks later Veronica seemed her rational self and she apologized profusely for being out of her mind.
Kim, 21 here in 2008, is the first subject I photographed for this project and the images of her in the denim top and jeans are the very first images I made. I photographed her on two occasions and would sometimes stop and chat with her if I saw her during my late night jogs through the neighborhood.
When I first approached Kim on the street she acted coy and suspicious and claimed as a cover story that she was out walking around and selling Avon, and she even had the boxed and sealed cosmetics in a bag. She said she was from Miami and had a child. Like a few of the women I have photographed she claimed she was not addicted to any drugs but, like the others, she eventually confessed to being addicted to crack. She broke down weeping as she said so.
I saw Kim again on the streets around 2012, a couple of years after these images were made. She was much heavier as is usually the case with women recently released from jail. She looked much older, seemed slightly disassociated and is perhaps suffering from PTSD. Other girls say she's gone a bit mad and can often be seen talking to herself. I have not seen her in a few years.
Layla, 27, is an excellent storyteller and recalls how terrific pain from a self-induced abortion led her to self-medicate with heroin, and describes key low points in her life as a hippy addict living on the road and at society's margins. Despite years of difficulty, she speaks intelligently and openly, and managed a beaming honest smile for the camera. Layla disappeared some years ago not long after doing these photographs.
For a couple of years Moya was constantly on my block and typically right outside my building. She always looked like a tough girl, and probably was, but she was always very polite and had some pearls of wisdom to impart. These photos were done very late one night right outside my building. I have not seen Moya since around the time the images were made circa 2012.
Alexis, 21 here, has been working the street since she was fifteen. She was born in Italy and has a twin sister who was also a prostitute. Alexis comes across as very street savvy, and her work as an exotic dancer likely has instilled her with confidence and an ability to hustle for money.
I was astounded, and am still a bit incredulous, to hear that in her heyday she claims she could do sixty "dates" in a day. Others have told me they do typically less than ten dates a day, and sometimes just two or three on slow days.
I had not seen Alexis for years until one day in mid-2015, when we talked at length and she was very pleased to see her images. She said her sister died of an overdose, and we plan to do another photo session and interview as funding allows.
The portrait photos of Alyssa were taken at the time I met her in early January 2012 and her eyes convey her innocence. At the time she said she had been on the streets for a while but I had never seen her. The images made on the street at night, with blonde hair, were taken just about three months later in March and show a harder and more street-savvy face altogether.
Alyssa is from Philadelphia's suburbs, and is college educated, very intelligent, and has a great smile. She's been doing all kinds of drugs since high school and said that when her high school had an anti-drug presentation it only served to pique her interest in all the drugs she was cautioned against using.
I occasionally cross paths with Alyssa at odd places once or twice a year, but she seems to prefer to work out of motels in New York or Northern New Jersey where she says there's more money to be made.
She loves getting high and gave me the impression that she has no desire to stop using drugs.
Kelly's story is particularly unfortunate because she had completed the police academy and was destined to become a cop, like her father. Kelly worked as a corrections officer at a city prison, and a job injury led her to Percocets to manage the pain, and ultimately to heroin. I could always hear in her tone the shame of letting herself and family down.
Kelly disappeared for some some years and in late 2013 our paths crossed at a flea market, and I would not have recognized her were it not for my photographer's eye. She was about fifty pounds heavier and in Jackie O' style sunglasses. She said she had been clean for a while and was trying to get her life in order, but still has days when the lure of heroin is very difficult to resist, but she said she has stayed clean.
It is not uncommon at all to see pregnant drug addicts who abuse their bodies in every way throughout the pregnancy term. If withdrawal is horrible for an adult, it must be a state of incomprehensible living hell for newborns. I imagine the craving for the drug is etched into their DNA.
She called herself Bubblegum, and if I recall correctly, I saw her a year or two after this photo and pregnant again. Despite her good girl appearance, she was a lifelong product of Philadelphia's Badlands, and nonchalantly boasted that she could have someone killed if she wished it.