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Heroines

by Lincoln Clarkes

Lincoln Clarkes is a Canadian fashion photographer who has made his mark both at home and in Paris and London. In 1996 he began a series of photographs whose subjects could not be less glamorous than the runway models of Europe’s fashion centres: heroin-addicted women on the ravaged streets of his East Vancouver neighbourhood. Heroines ($29 paper 1-895636-45-0, 136 pp., Anvil Press) presents a selection from that series, which to date has yielded over 400 photographs and several exhibitions – as well as a sea of controversy.

The photos document the harrowing lives of Clarkes’s subjects – many of them sex-trade workers – and the social conditions in which they live and, too often, die. Clarkes’ fashion background is evident in the composition and poses, which contrast starkly with the grimness of the lives the photos portray. This dissonance adds to the images’ shocking quality, which has provoked a resurgence of media attention to the city’s neglected drug crisis – a persuasive defence against accusations that the photos are exploitative. Clarkes collaborates with the women he photographs, and his subjects respond with enough trust and vulnerability to show themselves as they truly are. The result is much more than a detached record of picturesque squalor: Clarkes’s compassionate eye restores identity to women whose plight is typically represented as a set of unfortunate statistics.