In 2017, more than 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in Philadelphia. The vast majority were caused by opioids. Fentanyl, heroin and painkillers all took their toll. And the city’s Kensington neighborhood, once a working-class bastion, is the epicenter of its opioid epidemic.
Jeffrey Stockbridge, a Philadelphia photographer and fine-art printer, has spent a decade in Kensington, documenting the lives of neighborhood residents with substance-use disorder. Photographs, recordings and videos from “Kensington Blues,” his award-winning project about Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, are on view at Drexel University’s Paul Peck Alumni Center through March 30.
The 2017 toll was a record for opioid deaths in the city. Although overdose deaths may have dropped last year, Philadelphia is still grappling with how to tackle opioid use. City officials are trying to raise awareness of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use. The city’s attempt to establish the nation’s first supervised injection site faces opposition from the Justice Department.
“As a citizen, I am deeply concerned that not enough is being done to help those who are suffering,” Stockbridge writes. “This exhibition is a call to action.”
At its heart are Stockbridge’s unsparing images of people affected by opioid use. Taken beneath underpasses, in abandoned lots and rundown rooms, they portray the raw reality of people experiencing homelessness, trauma and loss. Stockbridge’s photos are accompanied by interviews, journals and videos that tell the stories of residents whose lives have been changed by Fentanyl, heroin and other substances.
Stockbridge documents harsh realities, but he does so with a sense of respect for the inherent dignity of his subjects. Photos and in-depth profiles are also featured on the project’s website, Kensingtonblues.com.
On Wednesday, Stockbridge will moderate in Philadelphia a panel discussion with academics and policymakers on strategies to prevent overdoses, including safe-injection sites. The event will be followed by a reception and a private tour of the exhibit. Visit bit.ly/kbpanel to register.