In Good Sick, photographer Jordan Baumgarten depicts the effects that opioids have had on a small, Philly neighbourhood, all while exploring his own, polarising relationship with the city he calls home.

In Good Sick, photographer Jordan Baumgarten depicts the effects that opioids have had on a small, Philly neighbourhood, all while exploring his own, polarising relationship with the city he calls home.

In Philadelphia, 80 per cent of overdose deaths involve opioids.

Those numbers – as outlined in a 2017 report by the city’s designated task force – have been rising sharply over the past five years. In 2016, 907 people died due to drug overdose, compared to 702 the previous year. In 2017, there were over 1,200 estimated overdose fatalities.

It’s a crisis that local photographer Jordan Baumgarten has come to witness first-hand. Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey, he returned to the city for college, before moving back permanently once he’d completed grad school. It was there, in Philly, that he eventually met and married his wife.

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

In 2013 – when the city’s opioid numbers first began to spike – the Baumgartens moved to Kensington, a neighbourhood sandwiched between North Philadelphia and the area known as its Lower Northeast section. It was here, in his new home, he first began to understand the extent of Philadelphia’s problem.

“I saw a lot of things that were going on out in the open, and that was really foreign to me,” he recalls. “I wanted to use my camera to put myself out there, so I could understand more. This a big city, and I wanted to learn about what was happening.”

Over the course of five years, Baumgarten documented what he observed in Kensington. Operating as a microcosm of a much larger crisis, the project – titled Good Sick – represents a visual portrait of the neighbourhood’s battles, depicting the strain and disorder of a community being torn apart by addiction.

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

Visually speaking, the series exists in a confused space. While Baumgarten’s pictures are stark in their portrayals of the effects of the crisis has had on Kensington, there’s also a certain ambiguity in their other-worldliness.

“I wanted some images to be very direct, but within the sequence, I wanted to include images that confuse the idea, so you didn’t really have a good footing on where you were.”

“This crisis exists in the open, in a way that was very complicated. With that, comes confusion. Whether [the images] are magical or beautiful, or terrifying, sometimes it’s hard to figure out. I was really interested in how to communicate that idea.”

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

That duality – private and public, alluring and vulgar – resonates throughout Good Sick’s pages. Though the project is foremostly a depiction of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, it’s also an exploration of Baumgarten’s relationship with the city: a place he appears to adore and fear in equal measure.

“I’m not sure how that would have panned down if I was living anywhere else in the United States,” he says. “This is where I’m from, so it’s meaningful to make work about a place that is so special to me.”

“But I see that [the crisis] is going to kill an entire generation. The public needs to be educated about what this is: heroin addiction is not a choice. I think that the responsibility of the city is to educate people. It’s my hope that this has a place in that.”

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

 

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

From the series ‘Good Sick’ © Jordan Baumgarten

Good Sick is available to pre-order via GOST.

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