Tony’s work has always been about the edge. He’s drawn to those areas and populations of North America that are on the perimeter of something. That might mean the back roads of Mississippi or a block in downtown Ottawa. Once there he makes contact. If there is any art to what he does, it is in that, the contact and collaboration with his subjects. He considers his photographs to be merely souvenirs.
There’s a corner in Ottawa where anarchy reigns. The people who inhabit that corner aren’t terrorists. They don’t blow stuff up nor do they want to overthrow any system or government. Mostly they just want to be left alone to fight their pain. Their weapon of choice is crack cocaine; the battleground is their bodies and their spirit. Crack addicts.
Since 2007 I’ve been going to this corner over and over again, obsessed. Obsessed with documenting the feel and the face of this small society. I work with a camera and the cooperation and acceptance of the addicts I’m photographing. They know me, I know them. We have an understanding. The work I’m doing there feels like collaboration. Some have said I’m collaborating with the enemy. They say that the addicts on that corner should be swept away. Of course, where they’ll go, how they’ll be treated is left unsaid. Addiction has always been with us, always will be. Lip service and knee-jerks count for nothing.
I don’t go down to that corner to fight for or against the addicts, I’m not there to judge. I’m there as an observer, one who has a point of view and the means to express that point of view. The casual passerby will see ugliness and conflict and degradation on that corner. Those all exist there, as they do on other corners, in other places.
But there are other emotions and dynamics to be seen there, too. I see community and fellowship, I see street mothers looking after the young women. I see one kind of pain being replaced with another kind of pain, one that is somehow – we can’t even begin to imagine – more acceptable to the addict. I see creativity, friendship and humanity. I see humans.
USER is an ongoing, open-ended project. My first year of shooting there was all done at dusk and in the dark. These images are an approximation (I call them “based on reality”) of some of the dynamic I observed on that corner. I would work with the subjects to set up small situations that reflected the look and feel of the nighttime corner.
The following year (2008) I became more interested in the face of the addicts. This work, titled: “USER: Women”, is a series of large format, close-up photographs of some of the women crack addicts that congregate on that corner.
These images are much more confrontational and stripped down than the previous work there. They show the face, rather than the feel, of that corner. The women look into the lens and allow you, the viewer, to look straight back at them, to look into their eyes and make up your own mind.
“When Tony Fouhse first exhibited his stylized photographs of crack addicts made on a street corner in Ottawa, Canada, he was unsure what the reaction of the opening-night audience would be. But he knew that some of those in attendance would approve: the subjects themselves. Mr. Fouhse’s photographs put a twist in the ongoing argument about making art out of suffering and making commodities from pictures of misfortune. When his photographs are on view at La Petite Mort, you can see the art inside and the reality outside”.
– New York Times, July 2009