christopher capozziello – a state of mind

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Christopher Capozziello

A State Of Mind

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This story began two years ago at a funeral home in the center of my hometown in Connecticut.

I stood in a line of a thousand or so people, with my good friend Laura, and her mother Bea. As we mourned the death of our friend Vinnie, a recovering drug addict, who relapsed and died of a heroin overdose, Bea told me how Vinnie had helped Monica, her youngest daughter, detox from heroin 5 months prior. She explained how afraid she was that his death would put Monica into a tailspin. Unfortunately, that is how this story goes.

When Monica was a young child, the pastor of the church she and her family attended, allegedly molested her over a 5-year period. When she was 18, she told her family what happened. Her accusations have never been confirmed and since the offense took place so long ago, Monica’s parents cannot bring suit against the pastor. Her parents believe this explains her many years of drug abuse.

Last year, Monica became pregnant with a man she met in rehab in Florida. Monica and Kyle stayed clean for 7 months before they both relapsed; just two months before the birth of their daughter Juliette. Following the birth, they both continued to intravenously use opiates.

When the baby was born, Bea traveled to Florida to help her daughter’s transition into motherhood. While Bea was there, Kyle became extremely volatile one night, and threatened to kill Monica, yet they remain a couple. Before Bea left for Connecticut, Monica told her to take Juliette, ‘I can’t raise her like this, not while I’m using.’

Today, baby Juliette is safe with Bea and her husband Don, in Connecticut, while Monica remains in Florida. I plan to investigate deeper into the molestation allegations.

 

Bio

Christopher Capozziello (born 1980) is a freelance photographer and a founding member of the AEVUM photography collective.

His work is primarily about inviting the viewer into personal stories in order to understand different facets of life. His projects often make unpleasant realities beautiful, not by misleading anyone, but by allowing the viewer to stop and look more deeply at the subject.

Christopher’s work has been honored by World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, the Alexia Foundation, the Aftermath Project Grant, PDN Photo Annual, Photolucidas Critical Mass, Review Santa Fe, American Photography, Communication Arts, National Press Photographers Association, among others.

He currently lives in Milford, Connecticut, where he accepts assignments and works on long-term personal projects.

 

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58 Responses to “christopher capozziello – a state of mind”


  • Here we go again. Do we really need another story of an addict ruining their life?

    And then what?

  • Christopher, your work is obviously outstanding. I wondered if you might share some additional thoughts. An honest question, or five, if you will.

    In the age when one inappropriate facebook posting can cost you a job and the internet is archived long-term, what implications might this work have on Monica’s life in the future, especially if she stays clean and moves on with her life? Has she considered this at all? Obviously, you care, you are not there to judge, but how do you feel about this work and how it will affect her? Do you think the internet has changed photographers’ ethical dilemmas with respect to the people portrayed in their work? Perhaps you foresee this helping in some way?

    It is surprising to me when people grant this type of access and I assume most photographers feel some internal conflict about it. Perhaps you would be willing to share your thoughts. Congratulations on stunningly powerful work.

  • Like Jim, I am generally tired of and uninterested in yet more stories about junkies and their ugly horrible lives. I like that this work transcends the usual in that it shows the powerful concern and sadness of the parents. I like it as well for #6 which makes it all look like so much fun. Of course there’s great enjoyment in the drug scene or so many people wouldn’t be doing them. The other needle pics are too much of the same old same old though, imo, except possibly the guy in the car which adds a dimension as yet, at least to my knowledge, unseen.

    Yep, girls having fun, stressed out worried parents, all you need is a corpse for an award winning essay. Here’s hoping you win no awards.

    And Tom’s questions are very good. I hope you feel like sharing your thoughts.

  • Honest question for Jim, Tom and Michael W.

    If–by whatever circumstances you can conjure up–a couple/family similar to this one came into your life and you were given the opportunity to shoot their lives, as is, full access, no restrictions… would you do it? If not, why not?

    Is shooting and publishing this type of essay in any way worthy?

    Genuinely interested in your thoughts. Christopher’s, too, of course!

  • Shoot? Definitely. Publish? Would depend on the specific circumstances. I’ve actually got some remotely similar stuff I’m holding until circumstances change considerably for some of the subjects.

  • Interesting in the usual car wreck sort of way.

    That she started using again, 2 months before delivery of the baby, is both tragic and criminal.

    Perhaps, you should exploit that avenue more than doing a 60 Minutes investigative piece on a pastor who
    may,or may not, be one source of the problem.
    Either way, the pastors ‘contribution’ is a moot point in the story, moving forward, as there is a
    child who will very possibly be fucked up by the sheer act of being born.

  • I met Christopher this summer at The Lumix Festival in Germany where we both had work being exhibited. Christopher won two of the wards. He’s an extremely conscientious guy.

  • Excellent, well-done pictures for sure. Even so, I must admit to experiencing a bit of the same reaction Jim had. Concerning Mike’s question, I am quite certain the answer would be yes. It is a worthwhile essay to have shot. However many times we have seen stories of this nature, it does tell us something about this one individual – and hopefully it might give her positive motivation in the future. My initial reaction of, “excellent, but here we go again,” is just personal fatigue. It does not lesson either the quality or value of the story.

    Well done, Christopher.

  • michael, I’ve been a newspaper shooter for 40 years. I’ve seen every kind of sad story, drug, alcohol, child, spouse and animal abuse there is. Walked over and around the bodies of too many of these people. I’ve had many opportunities to go deeply into these people’s lives and have refused to do it. While there are some stories of redemption, most are simply tragic, with a lot of people being harmed on the way to a terrible outcome. I’ve never been willing to exploit people in these situations, even though some in their vulnerable and confused state would have allowed it.

    I have seen little value to those involved where this kind of stuff has been published. It’s just voyeurism in my opinion. And unethical.

  • Yes, I just spent a few hours with Miss Belgium 1986 as we visited Bucharest’s street children who were shooting drugs and sniffing aurolac and I really don’t think the pictures I shot will do very much at all. But exposure does get some people to donate to the NGOS helping the children: http://davinellicson.tumblr.com/

  • Just to be clear, regarding Michael K’s questions and my interest in how Christopher may answer them implies no kind of negative judgement on this work or the fact that he published it. Just interesting questions with no doubt interesting answers. That’s all.

  • All seems on par with that facebook “famous for whatever” mentality that has entrenched itself into society. Is it a good thing? time will tell but is sure has change the way how many perceive themselves.

  • Is shooting and publishing this type of essay in any way worthy? ……the internet world is a big space so there is room for anything and everything.

  • Then in the end it is just another road trip

  • “Room” and “space” doesn’t suggest worthiness. But it is a trip of sorts.

  • Jim,

    Unethical? Even if the participants give permission? Or are they incapable of giving permission, or of making sound enough judgment about that?

  • “Room” and “space” doesn’t suggest worthiness …….. It is not a value judging structure just a vehicle of communication. It will be worth to someone ……..

  • What is a “value judging structure”?

  • Thank you all for the comments and questions. I will try to address them here.

    I think it is profoundly significant for each of us as storytellers to be thoughtfully aware of the implications that our work can have as we put it out into the world. It is important for us to consider how it will impact the people in the pictures, as well as their families. Has the Internet caused an ethical dilemma for us? I don’t think I would call it ethical, but more of a personal and moral decision. Monica does not hide from her past, and she is comfortable with her story being shared, as are her parents. Already, the Burn community is weighing in, and that dialogue of course, can be just as important as the story itself. My concern with sharing her story is greater than theirs. The last thing I want is for this story to hurt her or her loved ones in any way. With that said, it certainly is a risk. In 20 years will Monica and her family regret allowing me to tell their story? Will it have a negative impact on their family? I hope not.

    Sometimes people hope that sharing their story in some way will help others. I think in cases like this, it can give them a sense of ease about the pain they’ve gone through; that perhaps in the end, there may be greater meaning behind their choices and what those choices have caused themselves and those around them. Often they hope it may deter someone else out there from taking the same path they have. That is the case with Monica.

    When it comes to drug stories, we as photographers have seen them over and over again. Many of us are tired of them, and for me, that tiredness comes from seeing the same thing done in the same way – a repeating that does not add to the ongoing conversation about this topic. That is the challenge in focusing on such a widely photographed issue. This morning I was surprised to receive an email from Burn telling me that this story, a work in progress, which I submitted for consideration to their grant, would be published online.

    To put forward that we should no longer look at stories about drug addiction is a dangerous suggestion. And to see them all as voyeuristic and even unethical isn’t fair to the many empathetic and concerned photographers out there who have focused their energies on such stories. We might therefore be without work that asks important questions like that of Kent Klich, Larry Clark, Eugene Richards, Jessica Dimmock, to name a few. Their thoughtful work has proved important, not because the subject matter shows us a destructive way of life, but because it asks questions relevant to their time. They told their stories in a way that was different than what we had seen before them. Those photographers took risks in creating their bodies of work of a difficult subject matter. We often ask, ‘What else could be said or shown that hasn’t already been?’ That is something we all need to be asking, and exploring on our own as we create and publish new work.

    For me, getting the work out there is a crucial purpose for giving so much of my time to stories like this. If I’m not getting my work published, and it only remains on my website or in the hard drives at my home, I feel as though I’ve failed as a storyteller.

    I’m thankful to tell you all that since I submitted this work for the EPF grant earlier this year, Monica has stopped abusing opiates, and is back in Connecticut, taking care of her daughter, and living a much healthier lifestyle. Someone above commented that ‘all I need is a corpse for an award winning essay.’ I’ve been hoping this entire time that it wouldn’t end that way. I don’t believe it will be. Stay tuned as I continue to photograph, edit and write for this story.

  • IMANTS

    this might be the right time for you to take a vacation from Burn OR go shoot some pictures…or both

  • Value judgements are created by people and organisations such as governments etc. Burn is a value judging structure by the mere situation of people making verbal judgements on essays. The internet does not make a judgement, it is a communications vehicle.

  • What will become of essays like this is anyone’s guess. They are a bit like a tattoo for the subjects involved……… hard to get rid if if one chooses to alter their course in life. But that could pave the way for a greater openness and acceptance

  • go shoot some pictures ……….. that I do well photographs

  • IMANTS

    you have lost me a bit here my friend…value judgements are always made by many about everything in life….impossible to not be subjective….or maybe you have a better way of deciding, choosing , annointing etc…and whatever that way is, we will listen…there is no agenda that i know of from anyone on the Burn crew who is helping put this work together or to make a decision on one piece over another…i think if one looks at all that gets published, not just singling out one as being somehow representative of some “agenda”, that all kinds of ground gets covered here…however there is no attempt by Burn to ever suggest any empirical knowledge…all we do here is very simple…we just try to publish what photogs are doing these days….could be this essay, could be one of yours….all constructive suggestions for better ways to accomplish this are welcomed….

  • please note Christopher’s reply to all above…..the comment was held up accidentally waiting for approval since Christopher had never commented here before….i simply missed it earlier….we for sure have a thinking photographer here…i am always a bit amazed at how quickly some will jump to a conclusion on motive and intent assuming often things that should not be assumed ..one of the functions of the net i dislike the most….in any case, please give Chris a read …..

  • I never stated that the essay should not be here nor there nor that there was a agenda, it is Jim who was against it’s presentation. I did state that there seems to be a particular trend in this essay that has the show and tell facebook style of mentality and who knows where that will lead to.
    All I argued against was that the internet makes no value judgements as it is a thing.

  • Thanks for chiming in,Chris.
    Look forward to seeing the essay evolve with,hopefully, some component of Monica and child as,
    for me, the piece as it is presented (in tandem with your text) didn’t paint her in a light
    that made me feel much compassion for her situation.

  • “In 20 years will Monica and her family regret allowing me to tell their story? Will it have a negative impact on their family? I hope not.”

    You hope not? And what if they do regret it? What if there are jobs and opportunities and relationships lost because this story is out there? And then what? You are the one in power here. You made the decision to shoot the photos and set them free on the Internet. You have responsibility here. And, the best you can say is “I hope not.”

    Ethics are important. This stuff matters.

  • should have read All I argued for was that the internet makes no value judgements as it is a thing.

    Jim I am not sure if many see it as an issue

  • Jim Powers. I get the distinct impression that is only people like Mitt Romney (and you?) who would deny Monica a job because of this essay. Empathy is in short supply in those circles apparently.

  • Michael, people are regularly turned down for jobs for photos of themselves posted on the Internet. It is not theoretical. And for things of far less significance than photos of themselves shooting up with drugs.

  • The subjects of our photos don’t get a pass just because our intent is to make art.

  • There are some interessting and “tricky” topics raised by the essay and the discussion, which on the whole I like.
    1. If there aren’t any more drug-addicted stories (and similar topics, too often seen by some) told by photographers and others (as there are already so many) – isn’t it a little like if they aren’t existing any more? It is not in everybodies life, that one frequently stumbles upon these people. For some it is repeating and repeating and for some it will be the first essay they ever come across. Should these just dig in the old archives to find the old stories?
    2. What can a photographer do more then asking the subjects regarding publication? And if they agree, how can s/he judge, that this wouldn’t be a good idea and just don’t do it? As this one said, that the people on the photos have an interest in having their story published. How could he put some other reasons over that? It would mean to take the photographed people not serious. Pretending that they are not able to judge their own situation.
    And who really knows what will be the consequences? Life is still sometimes surprising.
    3. Stories about topics told again and again: What about love-stories? Told again and again and one reads them again and again or watches them in the movies. I don’t get the connection yet, but there are topics, which I think about again and again as I still don’t understand. I mean really understanding, not only theoretical. Like war and addiction and racism and religion and…. Sometimes I am also tired, but by every story told in a little different way, there might be something like part of an understanding for this person or that person. Or an idea which leads to something.
    Sorry for talking so much, it just made me think a little ;-)

  • that tiredness comes from seeing the same thing done in the same way – a repeating that does not add to the ongoing conversation about this topic. That is the challenge in focusing on such a widely photographed issue.

    Exactly. Unfortunately, too many photographers don’t take that challenge or even recognize it, preferring to actually try to recreate great work from the past. That’s what I like about your essay, that you have managed to add a couple new chapters.

    Regarding the question of whether to publish photographs that could cause problems for the subjects, that’ a recurring topic around here. Recently, there was a lively discussion about an essay about a prostitute’s children and many feared that it could have devastating repercussions in their lives, particularly if it came to the attention of their classmates. Adults giving informed consent is substantially different. In my case, the worry is more about the police than the job question. On one side, I’ve photographed undercover cops whose lives could be put in jeopardy if I published the photos at this point in their careers. On the other, I’ve photographed active drug users and dealers whose freedom would be put in jeopardy if I were to publish. I’ve chosen not to publish even though they gave consent (and sadly, the photos aren’t there yet, it’s a work in progress). To be clear, I am not making any kind of judgment on your decisions, just acknowledging the seriousness of the issue. Do your subjects not have any reason to worry about the police?

    And regards to why a subject might give consent for something like that, the most common reason I’ve found, even when they say their example might help others, is just plain vanity. Everybody wants to be a movie star and since that ain’t happening, they’ll take their little piece of fame wherever they can get it.

  • Christopher, thank you for your thoughtful reply here. It’s good to hear Monica’s life is heading in a better direction.

  • Jim. Would you not hire Monica because of these photos?

  • Intent is all that really matters and none of us are rich enough in understanding to ever be able to prob the heart of another and their intent. Were it not so, life and all its attendant sorrow would be much easier to shoulder….

    the work is strong though like others, what i wish to have from a story such as Christopher’s is not so much the documenting of the act of the particulars of this kind of life (the photos of the drug usage itself, which seem less real about the realities that accompany such torment, for example), though i too found the shot of the partner shooting up in the car powerful and insightful in a way that other stories on drug use seem to seldom offer (for all its visual/existential contradictions of that extraordinary shot, ‘visitor’), but the struggles and the momentary flights of real joy and crushing sorrow attendant…and this respect, the images of the family and of the couple grip me most hard….

    but, most importantly is Christopher’s thoughtful and carrying reply to the questions posed above that, for me, best explain and illumination intent…not the intention of a photographer once again working their bones on the periphery of others lives, but in a commitment to tell a story of a family for whom he wishes to care and in that telling lay the intent of both these documents and the hopes they may nourish….as a photographer and viewer, and more importantly a person, that articulation is what matters….it is clear….

    each of us chooses to tell the stories that mean the most to us and in our own inimical way and if the intent is one of honesty and one of care (I am certain Christopher and the family in this story though long about this), who are we in our better selves to judge….either the intent of the project, or whether or not the depiction of this life will in the future be rued by the subjects….more importantly is not a respective regret (as implied by some) but why is it that we (the greater society of we) judge and hold against what others and what suffering others and what decisions, poor and wise both, people make and forever hold that against them…..as if the greater collective we are clean of dirt and misshapen deeds….

    my hope that these kids stay and remain clean and that the child grows into a world filled by care and loving honor….

    “….
    I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
    but just coming to the end of his triumph. ”
    -jack gilbert
    ‘from falling and flying’

    the best of luck
    bob

  • good god is my comment filled with typos and addled grammar…sorry if my reply doesnt make sense….i’m literally jumping in here for 10 minutes while at the library…ok, must run….

    very very pleased, that Christopher has jumped in…always lovely to read and hear such thoughtful and compelling comments from the author :)

    that’s all i guess i really every wanted to say ;)

  • This internet world is evolving. I have to believe that what was once thought of as career crushing or socially ostracizing is now just par for the course for people growing and evolving themselves. If people like Jim want to remain in that insular, narrow world, more power to them. But just because a photo of drug use or passed out drunkenness or playful nudity doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    You make judgments on the person in front of you and how they conduct themselves. You don’t look at past “indiscretions”, even if they are recent, and decide from that. The people doing the interviewing or judging likely have similar histories.

    The old codger thinking is dying out thankfully. Same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, silly/foolish Facebook histories… the normalization and rational understanding of these things is becoming greater (though slower than I’d prefer!) and soon we’ll look back and think how ridiculous these backwards thinking judgments were.

    I hope, anyway.

  • MICHAEL K,

    You know that I have great respect for you and so if I must take a somewhat different stance, I hope you won’t be personally offended. What you say about the world becoming more forgiving in terms of overlooking the peccadilloes of people’s personal pasts is only half true and is a very optimistic view.. the other side of that contradiction is that never before have such vast and deep files on nearly everybody existed or been so accessible to all kinds of people one has to deal with… not just prospective employers, law enforcement officials, credit agencies, landlords, bankers, insurance companies, health management companies, the phone company, driver’s license bureaus, etc., etc., and of course good old Homeland Security looming over all of them…
    You are partly right in a way that there are so many people who are on record with some infraction or other that society has had to become in general more permissive just to find enough people to fill various jobs, etc. But it is neither a just nor rational system, and any of the things in your record or my record may potentially put you on someone’s blacklist… and it is usually very difficult, expensive, and time consuming to get off those blacklists, and in some cases impossible. And standards differ greatly… in one context, having a traceable past as a drug addict or as a felon may not prevent you from getting a job, but there are professions you would be barred from in various states, and you would automatically be denied entry into any number of countries…
    We should all we aware that, especially in the US, but in fact everywhere these days, there are enormous state-run intelligence nets that are constantly trolling search algorithms through oceans of data to turn up profiles of people who might someday be a potential threat (or just an inconvenience) to authority structures… and all that information rarely goes away or is purged, it is just expanded upon.
    People who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s, once they had experienced the permissiveness of the 1970s in America, never could have dreamed of how conservative the country would subsequently become. Your hopefulness that in the future America may be more tolerant is a noble one, but it may just as easily be disappointed by the possibility of the US, and many other countries, turning into even worse police states than they already are.

  • Sidney… No doubt yours is the world we are in and it may someday get even worse. I guess my bit up there was a little overly optimistic (shhh, don’t tell anyone! ;^}) but, in time, as is evidenced with the few examples I gave, I think that’s the place we’re headed. Progress is slow, yes, but it’s happening.

    I see the people of the 50s and 60s living in a world of equal rights (almost!) for the LGBT community (certainly much much more than they ever knew!), a black President, a woman sec of state, openly gay members of congress, television characters sharing the same bed (haha! remember Rob and Laura Petrie?) … etc… sure, there is plenty to be discouraged about but also reason for (a little?) optimism.

    No giving in to the schoolmarms or authoritarians!

  • Michael,

    Surely you are right about how much attitudes toward gender issues, and to some extent racial issues, have changed in America in the last three decades, and there is far more tolerance for public exposure of sexuality in general. But let’s not forget that at the same time, America has more people in prisons than any other country, and most of them are there on drug-related offenses.

    We also live in a very litigious world, and most institutional and private employers are increasingly concerned about being held responsible for potential acts by their employees… this is not schoolmarmish nor authoritarian on their part, it is merely cautious and realistic in their situation.

  • Jim Powers:

    “You hope not? And what if they do regret it? What if there are jobs and opportunities and relationships lost because this story is out there? And then what? You are the one in power here. You made the decision to shoot the photos and set them free on the Internet. You have responsibility here. And, the best you can say is “I hope not.””

    And what if, 20 years from now, they feel this essay to be one of the best things that happened in their lives? What if they think it made clear to them just what was happening, and gave them motivation to move forward? What if they also see it as something that enabled them not only to help themselves, but others too? What if someone in a position of power sees this, sees the progress Christopher has told us about, feels a desire to help and so provides opportunity that otherwise would have been missed?

    You may not think this likely, but I think it is every bit and perhaps even more likely than the scenario you have laid out.

  • Their own peers also shoulder a responsibility not to utilize Facebook histories but when push comes to shove for employment or personal gain people are willing to a heck of a lot in order to gain an advantage.
    But here we have adults who have taken a path in life and are willing to share it……….. a choice taken good bad or indifferent. Most viewers are indifferent as it all makes way for new images or texting on our phones we just move on

  • Here many like to follow the path that all photos and essays should be open to personal interpretation. For those that advocate that freedom of choice do you accept others interpretation that these are just a bunch of lazy good for nothing druggies?

  • Michael, you are an employer and have two equally qualified prospects in front of you. You do an Internet search (many employers routinely do that these days). One of the prospects has only photos of himself with cute kittens and family snapshots. The other has photos of him/her shooting up drugs and smoking grass. Which do you choose? This is real. People are losing jobs and not getting jobs every day because of stuff on the Internet.

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