September, 13 2021 (New York): The overdose crisis has touched millions of people in the United States, with nearly 500,000 lives lost over the last decade and 93,000 lives tragically cut short from overdose in 2020 alone. Offering solutions and hope, Vital Strategies has launched a new photo series, “Love and Dignity: Portraits from the Front Lines of the Overdose Crisis” that features striking photography and insightful quotes and audio from Vital Strategies’ partners in Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The series highlights dedicated community health workers, volunteers, and harm reduction advocates, many of whom have personal experience with drug use, who are working tirelessly to save lives in their communities.
“This photo-voice project elevates the stories of people working on the front lines to reduce overdose, showcasing the life-saving work of harm reduction and challenging the stigma against people who use drugs,” said Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “We are so pleased to feature our partners in this health-centered, non-judgmental approach that exemplifies how to treat people who use drugs with love and dignity.”
Vital Strategies teamed up with photographer Graham MacIndoe and writer-interviewer Susan Stellin to capture the images and text for the series. MacIndoe and Stellin specialize in collaborative storytelling, working with participants to challenge stereotypes and broaden understanding about complex issues and stigmatized groups.
“As someone with a history of addiction, incarceration, and recovery, I feel it’s important that people who have lived experience with drug use and addiction have opportunities to tell their own stories,” MacIndoe said. “So we pair photos with quotes in a way that gives people the chance to speak for themselves.”
Over the last year, Graham and Susan met with and documented more than 100 people from 13 of Vital Strategies’ partner organizations, including organizations from Pennsylvania, (Prevention Point Philadelphia, Project Safe, the Maternity Care Coalition), New Jersey, (Salvation and Social Justice, the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition), Connecticut, (SWAN (Sex Workers and Allies Network), DESK (Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen), the Quinnipiack Valley Health District), and Michigan, (MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength), Detroit Action, Ruth Ellis Center, Wellness Services, and the Red Project in Grand Rapids and Muskegon).
“The work being done by our partners across the country provides hope and inspiration as we combat this preventable crisis,” Gloria Malone, Senior Manager, Digital Strategist at Vital Strategies. “We created the “Love and Dignity” website to lift up this essential harm reduction work and allow viewers to share these stories with as many people as possible.”
Photos and quotes from this series will be displayed on a 40-foot banner in Brooklyn Bridge Park as part of the The PHOTOVILLE Festival, featuring outdoor exhibitions across parks and public spaces throughout New York City.
This annual community festival is attended by 100,000s and provides an accessible venue for photographers and audiences from every walk of life to engage with each other, and experience thought-provoking photography from across the globe. Photoville’s 70+ outdoor exhibitions will open on September 18, 2021 and remain on view through December 1, 2021.
Love and Dignity: Portraits from the Front Lines of the Overdose Crisis is available here.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.
Follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat.
About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program
In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.
About Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin
Graham MacIndoe is a photographer and Susan Stellin is a writer and researcher who earned a master’s in public health from Columbia University in 2019. They have collaborated on many projects combining interviews and photography, including exhibitions, events, and a memoir, Chancers, about Graham’s addiction, incarceration, and recovery.
Graham and Susan specialize in collaborative storytelling, working with participants to challenge stereotypes and broaden understanding about complex issues and stigmatized groups. They co-curated the exhibition Beyond Addiction: Reframing Recovery, which debuted in New York City in 2019, and their series American Exile, about families divided by deportation, was shown at Photoville in 2015.
Born in Scotland, Graham earned an MFA from the Royal College of Art in London, moved to New York City, and has worked as a photographer since 1999. He teaches photography at Parsons School of Design and has exhibited and published his work widely. Susan earned a B.A. in political science from Stanford University, moved to New York City in 1998, and was a regular contributor to The New York Times for more than 15 years. As a research and communications consultant, she has worked on projects about ways to reduce overdose deaths, reform criminal justice practices, and decrease stigma that can be a barrier to seeking help.
Tony Newman | TNewman@VitalStrategies.org
Gloria Malone | Gmalone@VitalStrategies.org