Margot Leigh Butler, “The Hero of ‘Heroines’: Photographs by Lincoln Clarkes”

Margot Leigh Butler, “The Hero of ‘Heroines’: Photographs by Lincoln Clarkes”, Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 37:4 (December 2004): 275-296.


By way of “figuration,” “implicatedness,” and other interdisciplinary concepts, this essay contextualizes and critiques Lincoln Clarkes’s acclaimed book of photographs of unnamed women pictured as heroin addicts on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where many women are missing and murdered.

Having one’s photograph taken and displayed will not cure a heroin addiction’, it does, however, encourage people to remember that addicts are not nameless outcasts, and that we all have a responsibility to recognize their struggle.-Barbara Hodgson, “Foreword,”

Heroines: Photographs

Printed on the raver of Heroines: Photographs by Lincoln Clarkes is a photograph of a blonde figure leaning in the doorway of a seedy café (Illus. 1). Her arms are open, her gaze is upon us, the door is open. Captions come to mind: “Welcome to my world,” “Take me I’m yours,” “She’s asking for it” “Women who can’t be raped,” “Prostitute,” “Drug Addict.” Readers opening the book, passing through her open door, enter the world which Clarkes makes through his photographs of women he pictures as “heroines”: women heroin addicts who live on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

How does she look to you? In this photograph, and in the other unseen photos referred to in this essay, what culturally meaningful signs is Lincoln Clarkes mobilizing? (Signs: seedy café; inviting woman; cardigan pushed off bare shoulders; black bra straps; lace halter top; tie dangling between thighs; bare belly; thin; stoned.) Is it meant to look like she is selling sex to get money for drugs she is addicted to; as if she is implicating herself? She is represented corroborating-sexualized, objectified, commodified, a spectacle. (“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” [Debord n.p.; emph. mine].) Is she meant to look like she is in “survival sex trade work,” which means that for her, then, a pimp, a drug habit, or extreme poverty leaves her with no other option (Gardner)? Still, in a shutter’s moment, she’s set in perpetuity. Fixed.

1. Lincoln Clarkes, Cover: July 3, 2001\King’s Café, 350 Powell Street; in Heroines (courtesy Lincoln Clarkes and Anvil Press).

In her Foreword, quoted above, Barbara Hodgson encourages people to remember that “addicts are not nameless outcasts” (xiv). Looking through Heroines for the photographed woman’s name, I find a “List of Photographs” ordered by page number or photograph number, by date and location. She is “Cover: July 3, 2001|King’s Café, 350 Powell Street.” None of the book’s authors explains why the women photographed are nameless in Heroines. If they requested anonymity, if this is for their protection, why not say so? Why not use assumed names?

Of the 112 photographs in Heroines, only three women are named in the essays: Leah, who Clarkes says died of a drug overdose (x); Sheila Egan (“missing”) (Alien 125); and Patricia Johnson (“missing and presumed dead,” Dietrich-Campbell 111). Robert “Willy” Pickton has since been charged with the murders of Patricia Johnson and fifteen other women. “Five of the women whose remains would ultimately be found on the farm” are pictured in Heroines, states Seattle writer Charles Mudede in a tell-all feature article titled “Death Farm: The Geography of Pig Farmer Robert Pickton, the Man Suspected of Having Killed Over 60 Vancouver, BC, Sex Workers.”

Searching for more names of women Clarkes has pictured as “heroines,” I begin to notice that the women’s words are absent too, that there are no statements by the women Lincoln Clarkes has photographed. Women missing names, missing words, missing women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The thing she got most from me, next to money and a few tears, was time. And I enjoyed every minute of it.-Clarkes, x

In his introductory remarks, titled “Leah,” Lincoln Clarkes uses this “film noir” tone to tell us his version of Leah’s story. This is how he represents his relation to her: a femme fatale. Meeting her again unexpectedly after many years, he “tagged along with her” while she scored the heroin she’d shoot up inside a bus shelter in front of a photo of supermodel Kate Moss, pictured in high “heroin chic” fashion; Kate and Leah in front of Clarkes and his camera (October 1996/Kate Moss/Leah, Chinatown, Pender Street, viii). Leah asks Clarkes to help her escape the city. She gets off drugs, regains her friends and family, calls Clarkes (who wasn’t home) wanting to “come over for tea and talk,” and ends up, later that evening, overdosed, “found dead on a bathroom floor in the Downtown Eastside. Alone.” (x). Through his telling, Leah becomes a figure in a tragic narrative. And because the other photographed women’s stories are not told, Leah’s story overlays them, steers them. At best, the women photographed are not dead yet. At very best, they are recuperated into mainstream society, turned (back) into “good girls.” So we are offered good girls and bad girls and safety and risk, and no sense that there is much besides “personal misfortune” or “inadequacy” between them.

This is how Heroines begins to make the photographed women into the cultural figure of the “heroine”: “A figure collects up the people; a figure embodies shared meanings that inhabit their audiences” (Haraway 23). Claudia CastaÚeda writes that:

This concept of figuration makes it possible to describe in detail the process by which a concept or entity is given particular form-how it is figured-in ways that speak to the making of worlds. To use figuration as a descriptive tool is to unpack the domains of practice and significance that are built into each figure. A figure, from this point of view, is the simultaneously material and semiotic effect of specific practices. (3)

In Heroines, this practice starts with Clarkes’s “noir” version of Leah which soon, through the Heroines essays, photos, and surrounding material, is turned into an over-burdened figuration. Delivered to and inhabiting “socially concerned audiences” through the discourses of photography, this cultural figure of the heroine works hard for many people in many discourses (social and psychical). Here, social practices, social crises, are masked and embodied as personal tragedy. The “generic” cultural figure of the heroine collects up trauma, betrayal, self-betrayal, “bad luck,” bad choices, (false) hope and hopelessness, poverty, weakness, muteness, misery, abandonment (which intersects with the figure of the “unfit mother”), obliteration, victimhood, tragic beauty, forbiddenness, guilt, immorality, disease, mental illness, unlovedness, “merit”; as well as (unspecified, undirected, unmarked, unrecognized and therefore “undisturbed” practices of) oppression, violence, neglect, abuse, victimization. And does this figure also collect up and embody experience, resilience, street smarts, frankness, respect, “choice,” survival, escape, canniness, knowledge, strength, community, defiance?

In other contexts, I have argued that this figuration can be reconsidered through the concept, method, and practice of “implicatedness”: figures of implicatedness-through vision (Mieke Ba focalizers) and through frank, courageous speech (Foucault’s parrhesiastes)- see and say, show and tell what we are part of across time and place, and within relations of power. And while the women Clarkes figures as heroines do not speak-they are not quoted or named in his book-they can, in other contexts, be powerful figures of implicatedness through vision and through their fearless speech, even, for instance, by publicly declaring “I’m in there! I’m one of the women in that picture!” (Butler).

Whenever the content [of the photograph] is another gaze, the politics of representation are involved-Dietrich-Campbell, 112

Identified in the “List of Photographs” by date and location, the photographed women become markers who map the “Downtown Eastside” over time. Often, the images contain commercial, official, or grafittied text which further anchors the photos’ meanings: “WOMEN,” “Knowlton’s DRUGS,” “IMPORTS,” “FOOD TO GO,” “OPEN BUY & SELL,” “Nice n Easy,” “FEEL GOOD,” “LADIES MEN,” “Waste Management,” “FUNERAL CHAPEL,” “VACANCY.” Even amongst them, the meaning of Photo 072: August 8, 1998/Armstrong Funeral Chapel, 304 Dunlevy Avenue (photographed from ground level, a young woman in an open mini-dress stands in front of a funeral chapel marquee) is overdetermined, a kind of fortune-telling though any place may be fatal.

The punctum of Photo 004: August 23, 1998/Chinatown Alley, 119 East Pender Street, a syringe held upright in two hands, visualizes the title’s wordplay-“heroin” into “heroines”-and prefigures wordplays to come. For instance, the women’s addiction is, I believe, parodied in the title of Stan Feingold’s documentary film about Clarkes’s Heroines series, called Heroines: A Photographic Obsession. Like a rolling joke, the words “obsession,” “addiction,” and “shooting” (a “natural” cross-over between heroin and photography) were used by Bravo! NewStyleArtsChannel which referred Io “Lincoln Clarkes’s pictorial obsession with Vancouver Downtown Eastsidc’s ‘forgotten women of the street'” (PeaceArch) in the following press release:

Heroines presents the intimate, personal stories of six street women through the eyes of well-known photographer Lincoln Clarkes. Clarkes is a self-confessed addict, who every week for the past several years ventured into the heroin ghetto of one of North America’s poorest neighbourhoods, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, not to shoot up, but to shoot portraits. he is drawn to the tragic beauty of these forgotten women of the street. This provocative program explores a rarely seen nether world of drug addiction, prostitution and survival. Like the portraits of Lincoln Clarkes, Heroines humanizes a world that many would sooner forget. (Bravo)

The “Downtown Eastside” is many places: a “nether world,” a “heroin ghetto,” a crime scene, a film set (Babiak 128), an urban Anywhere (“The fact that this series is set in Vancouver is immaterial; most Western cities share the problem.” [Clarkes xiv] ). The “Downtown Eastside” is the Woodward’s squat and what made it possible, a network of communities (some more supportive and effective than others), home and homelessness, a trauma venue, Pickton’s “haunt,” a discursive trope, a cautionary tale, a scandal, a “moral crisis,” a public image problem, a mayor-elector and a mayorbooter. And more.

The “Downtown Eastside” is “knowable”: using such methods as statistics, it can be described and known by “outsiders.” The final Heroines essay, “Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: Statistics” by Elaine Alien, provides readers with condensed parcels of organized social information: Population (by gender, age, and income), Housing, Lookout Emergency Shelter, Daycare, Welfare, Life for Addicted Women, Price of Sex/Drugs, Missing Women, The Vancouver Agreement, The Harm Reduction Movement, What is Detox?, BC Illicit Drug Death Statistics, Causes of Mortality, Mental Health Issues, Crime Stats. These statistics offer a “snapshot” of the “Downtown Eastside” with very little discussion of its history and social production; again, the location and the people are conflated. Alien also includes explanations of local vocabulary (“low track,” “circle jerks,” “rock”) which, while offering information to interested uninformed readers, raises the question of how it may be used, made useful, to whom and what for. Alien neglected, as did the other authors and Clarkes himself, to mention or discuss how the Dowtown Eastside is racialized; this is a hallmark of much self-invisibly “white” work. Such oversights or glosses can be seen in Clarkes’s artfully composed and detailed photographs of (potentially) recognizable locations and faces, which produce a spatially and pictorially condensed urban Anytown, peopled with social “types.”

There are many ways for photographers (who are also “types”) to situate themselves in relation to their “subjects.” Though he has often been quoted speaking emotionally about the women he photographs, in his statement at the back of Heroines, Clarkes situates himself in proximity to his subjects: he “resides in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, a few blocks from where the photographs in this book were taken. he has two grown daughters” (Clarkes 136). Here, Clarkes joins other “social projects” (activist and academic) by accounting for his relation to his subjects through kinship (i.e. daughters), insider/outsider status, and/or location. In this way, viewers of the photographs are assured of the “authenticity” of the images.

In some circles, a Downtown Eastside address gives cachet, street cred, cultural capital (will it become difficult to find a Vancouver artist who hasn’t had a studio in the 100 block East Hastings?); and soon, the catchment area can expand and the “Downtown Eastside” is bled over to Strathcona, or, perhaps more contentiously, into posh Gastown lofts (Wild). Such a politics of location raises questions about what counts as “there,” and these questions become tricky when they involve lived experience and “realist” representation. What kind of “there” is being inhabited by Clarkes, the women photographed, and his published and exhibited photos? Does he consider “living near” his “subjects”-a few blocks from where the photos were taken-as if he is “living as” they do: addicted to drugs and so committed to the means of getting them? Is Clarkes part of his subjects’ communities, and vice versa; and with what kind of cross-mobility and care?

I feel confident in these photos. They’re very revealing-about me as well as the women. They are what I chose to see.-Lincoln Clarkes, qtd. in Glionna, “Light and Darkness in Canada”

Photographed, the women sign a consent form which entitles Clarkes to use the images very broadly. The concept of “consent” implies the choice to, or not to, participate (“choice” being one hallmark of liberal, consumerist ideology, i.e. Clarkes’s comment that “They are what I chose to see”). Yet, what are the lived relations between “choice” and addiction, and how are they mobilized through Heroines? What are the lived relations between consent and class; is there access to the legal channels to try to challenge, negotiate, or rescind consent? How do these photographs repercuss in the lives of women who regret having signed the consent form, those who don’t want Clarkes’s images of them in circulation, those whose photos contribute to their exploitation and revictimization, which cause harm? If, in this context, photographs are known to cause harm, does situating them through a “harm reduction” approach offer some much needed re-framing to dualized anti/censorship and reality/representation discourses? How are these images part of the lives of all the women-whether regretful or pleased to be part of Heroines-who may see their photographs in different (accumulating) contexts: exhibited in galleries, reproduced and distributed in books and newspapers, in archives, on web sites, at memorials, the subject of films, of public and private conversations, of published pieces like this one; or just find themselves mis/recognized, anywhere and in the future, as heroin addicts?

In relation to the other Heroines photos, Clarkes’s own image resembles a (backstreet) passport photo, a cropped “mug shot,” and so situates him through key photographic institutions (identification, im/mobility, criminality) ( see Illus. 2). None of the other photographs in the book show so little of their subject’s body and material context, or reveal so much of their subject’s unstated relation to (photographic) institutions of authority.

2. Astrid Clarkes, Photograph of Lincoln Clarkes, January 2002; in Heroines, 138 (courtesy of Anvil Press).

Historically, photographic practice is implicated in the power relations involved in representing “others” (in this argument, photographs are always situated historically, culturally, materially, socially, politically, etc.). By now, it is well known that photography, as one of many visual technologies, plays a crucial political role in visually producing (ideologically normative) social “types” including the dispossessed, marginal, criminal, insane, diseased, the addict, and the prostitute (Sekula). Locally and internationally, as Heroines and its offshoots win awards and gain mainstream media acclaim-for instance as the co-winner of the 2002 City of Vancouver Book Award, with Reid Shier’s Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings-Clarkes’s work contributes to this already well-established photographic archive where signs and stereotypes carry culturally “shared” meanings.

Stereotypes get hold of the few “simple, vivid, memorable, easily grasped and widely recognized” characteristics about a person, reduce everything about the person to those traits, exaggerate and simplify them, and fix them without change or development to eternity. [… ] [Stereotyping] divides the normal and the acceptable from the abnormal and unacceptable. It then excludes or expels everything which does not fit, which is different. [… ] Stereotyping tends to occur where there are gross inequalities of power. (Hall 258, emph. Hall’s)

In Ken Dietrich-CampbelTs Heroines essay “The Ethic of Photographs,” the woman photographed sitting on the left side of the doorstep in Photo 110: july 15, 1997/three women, Evergreen hotel, 333 Columbia also entitled “3 Darlings” is identified as Patricia Johnson “who joined the list of missing women in 2001” (Clarkes 111). At Clarkes’s 1998 exhibition at the Helen Pitt Gallery, this work was installed in such a way that it was the first image seen by visitors. Clarkes’s link with the history of social documentary photography was thereby made explicit: it bears a strong resemblance to one of the best known Victorian social documentary images: John Thomson’s “The Crawler.” Printed in his 1877 book Street Life in London, Thomson photographed a woman with a wrapped baby on her lap, too weak to stand (hence a “crawler”), sitting on a doorstep.

Documentary, as we know it, carries (old) information about a group of powerless people to another group addressed as socially powerful.-Rosier, 306

Documentary photography has come to represent the social conscience of liberal sensibility presented in visual imagery. […]The liberal documentary, in which members of the ascendant classes are implored to have pity on ana to rescue members of the oppressed, now belongs to the past.-Rosier, 303, 325

Photo 081: August 30, 1998/alley, Army and Navy Dept. Store, 27 West Hastings Street oka City of Vancouver Millennium Project image # V2K05831 won Clarkes a place in the City of Vancouver Millennium Project ( see Illus. 3). The photograph’s timeframe is listed as “the past,” and its category of entry is “Famous or unforgettable people, Drug addiction.” Writing about the production of this image of an imploring, crying figure in the blurb which accompanies the photo in the Millennium Project archive, Clarkes states:

This one was taken in the summer of 1998 on one of the hottest days. She (name withheld) was photographed 10 minutes after we finished the actual photo shoot. I was showing her and her friends some photos of another woman I had photographed. When she saw the portrait I had taken of her best friend, Sheila Eagan [sic], she burst into tears. Sheila is one of the Downtown Eastside’s missing women, and she seemed to know something terrible had happened to Sheila. I gave Sheila’s portrait to her. (“From the Heroines series”)

The title’s wordplay-turning “heroin” into “heroine”-sets readers on one side of a dualism which structures the popular discourse of social documentarism, namely that photographs can “humanize,” that they can reveal and so lead to the amelioration of the dire conditions, of the misery pictured or that these photographs are sensationalistic and exploit those whom they show. By transforming “heroin” into “heroines,” the book’s title takes up the humanizing tradition (crudely put, to show “these people” as human beings; or as Barbara Hodgson says in her Foreword “to recognize the human being behind the degraded façade” [xiii]) while the controversy around whether this work is exploitative generates continuing interest in other circles. As Elaine Alien observes, “Public awareness of the issues affecting the Downtown Eastside grew as images from the neighbourhood started showing up in the media. [… ] Many praised Clarkes for bringing the plight of the women on the Downtown Eastside into public focus; others called his work exploitative” (“Around Here” 127). Indeed, this controversy acts as a magnifying lens on a hot topic which increasingly draws-“is magnetic to”-documentarians (Rosier 303): photographers, filmmakers, artists, photojournalists and writers as well as your average punter who may (feel entitled to) partake of the scene, somehow, however, and particularly.

3. Lincoln Clarkes, Photo 081: August 30, 1998/altey, Army and Navy Dept. Store, 27 West Hastings Street aka City of Vancouver Millennium Project image #V2K05831; in Heroines (courtesy of Lincoln Clarkes and Anvil Press),

These participants mobilize the “humanize” versus “exploit” structure of social documentary practice; and at times, the photographed women’s support of the “humanizing” aspect of the images is exploited. Then, the women can be set corroborating against themselves by contributing to a visual economy as signs of “otherness” and social “types.” And once the formal photographic elements have been established, pre-gridded, regularized, any woman who is photographically “dropped in” can be assumed to be a heroin addict and, most likely, a sex trade worker.

In her Heroines essay “The Photographer as Witness,” Patricia Canning traces a history of social documentary photography, stating that its purpose has been “to shock, dismay, and provoke action, to change the conditions that create poverty and suffering” ( 117). In an interesting discussion of the work of key practitioners (including photographers who have represented the Downtown Eastside)-some of whom (Bellocq, Brassai, and Mary Ellen Mark) have photographed prostitutes (120)-Canning leads us to Clarkes like a horse to water, or to the promise of water: for once she arrives, rather than making links between the previously cited photographers and Clarkes, she provides a thorough description of the formal aspects of the Heroines photos, while backing away from the social documentary project:

But where documentary photographs are typically taken for the purpose of affecting public persuasion, in the Heroines portraits Clarkes undertakes no responsibility for the reality, only for the pictures. [… ] A woman may be shown undergoing social forces that shape her life-the poverty, addiction, and sickness-but the photographer does not suggest ways she might deal with the facts. In Heroines, the photographer is fundamentally a kind stranger who makes no judgement about the women he pictures. Clarkes’s editorial duty to his material stops with the honest report. (122-23)

Surprisingly, after writing the phrase “editorial duty to his material”-an offensive phrase at cross-purposes with how she describes Clarkes’s relation with the women he pictures as “heroines” (portraits made “with the agreement and cooperation of the subjects” and “intimate photographs of women who have a high degree of comfort with the photographer” [ 122] )-Canning spends the last paragraph of her essay figuring Clarkes as a “compassionate observer” (123). To his ideal audience who see his photographs, Clarkes’s compassion extends this way: “I’m forcing people to look at these women … to look into their eyes, to really see them: a woman, a child that’s grown up. Somebody’s mother, somebody’s sister” (Farr). In a lengthy feature article which is very sympathetic to Clarkes’s project, Los Angeles Times journalist John M. Glionna pictures Clarkes this way: “On a recent spring day, as Clarkes slows his battered Volvo on a Downtown Eastside street, he points to three women in high heels and clingy micro-dresses. “Look at all the heroines! They’re so Saturday night! For these girls, every day is Saturday night” (qtd. in Glionna). Clarkes’s photographic practice is not solely social documentary, but a genre which combines documentary with fashion, art, and (celebrity) portraiture. Glionna refers to the women as ” junkie-models” and while Clarkes states that the “Leah” photograph-and by implication the others-is not staged (ix), the photos’ status as posed fashion images is most evident when the women are represented “vogueing” (Photos 019, 088, 016). In an excerpt from the film Heroines: A Photographic Obsession, Clarkes chooses the background and context and poses a “model” while a voiceover says “He wants a profile, tells me to turn my head one way, then the other.” In this spectatorial relation, inside this combined photographic genre and its discourses, Heroines take up a cultural figure which is a conflation or mixture of the artist’s model (in all her to-be-looked-at-ness [Mulvey 25], i.e. Venus/Odalisque/Olympia), the celebrity (“famous or unforgettable people” in the “Downtown Eastside women drug addict/prostitute” public discourse), the immizerated (what Rosier sees as liberal social documentary’s subject), and the (heroin chic) fashion model.

In all, there are six essays in Heroines, and, following the tradition of an art exhibition catalogue, their role is to contextualize, historicize, and theorize Clarkes’s photographs, and in some cases, his subjects. Two theorists whose work strongly pertains to these images are Martha Rosier (quoted above, though not from Heroines essays) and Laura Mulvey. Although at the very end of his Heroines essay, Dietrich-Campbell states that Rosler’s and Mulvey’s work is now “passé and mired in academic discourse” (116), he does discuss Rosler’s germinal work on the ethics of social documentary photography-comparing her unpeopled Bowery photos to Heroines backgrounds (114)-and he gives a muddled rendition of Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze. After quoting Lacan, he claims that “[The Heroines series] subverts] the modernist lament that you never see me in the place I look at you from, by producing a gaze from the same place, photographically, that you would normally avoid looking at, and putting it in a place designed for viewing visual art” (115). Losing the tremendous potential of his essay’s beginning, which starts with a crackerjack quote on ocularcentrism by visual theorist Martin Jay, the remainder of this essay seems hurriedly written and contains statements which are misplaced and crass in relation to the women photographed for Heroines (though perhaps not if placed in the context of Clarkes’s European fashion photography career): “You really have to live in a fashion-centred city like London or Paris to see how fashion can be a fundamental category of human interrelations, how it can consume everything we do in relation to each other” (Dietrich-Campbell 116).

The Heroines photographs have many audiences-both ideal and unexpected ones -all of whom may have different (at times contesting) relations with the photos, signs, locations, contexts, subjects, and producer. As a result, the photographs-which also sit in relation to each other and to other “texts”-can have a wide range of meanings and interpretations, and may also “hail” or interpellate their viewers differently.

What does Heroines tell its readers about the photographed women’s relations with their photos? In her essay “Around Here,” Elaine Alien writes about women wearing photographs of friends and families close to their bodies, inside plastic bags (124); of a woman for whom Clarkes’s photo “served as a catalyst for her to deal with her drug addiction and to finally get off the streets” (126); and of the importance of a Heroines photo of Sheila Egan, one of many “missing women,” to women in a Downtown Eastside women’s drop-in centre as a way of remembering her. A close friend of Sheila’s reveals that “now that Sheila was missing and presumed dead, that photograph was the only ‘piece of Sheila’ she had left” (Alien 125). Other Heroines photographs act as momentos of the missing women: a journalist reports that one of Clarkes’s “elegant photographs” of Patricia Johnson is at the women’s memorial at the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam. There, the photo would be set near to other momentos, to other photos. And furthermore, two home care nurses, Susan Giles and Evanna Brennan, working on the Downtown Eastside appreciated Heroines “as a moving tribute by Lincoln Clarkes and Kat Kosiancic [Clarkes’s unnamed “female assistant” (Dietrich-Campbell 111)] to the women of the Downtown Eastside” and incorporated it in their presentation at a Canadian AIDS Society conference.

Kosiancic’s documentary film be my junkie Shadow contains video portraits of many of the same women photographed for Heroines. In her introduction to the film on her Web site, she says:

I began interviewing women who are addicted to crack, coke or heroin who live and work in this area. The more I listened to their stories, the more I learned and the more I understood their plight. The video interviews I conducted with these women allow them to speak for themselves about themselves. They tell of terrible tales of childhood abuse, incest and rape. They tell of abusive families annihilating their spirit and feeling their goals dissipating. They talk of the loss of their own children and how drugs numb their emotional pain. They talk about getting out of the hood, and … especially … they talk about their dreams. These are their words. Please listen.

Kosiancic’s Web site also contains excerpts from the interviews which formed the basis of her film, including a poem by Bernadette called “The Documentary”:

I hope that it reaches some kids.

If it helps even one kid, you know

stop them from coming down here,

it would make my heart just fill with joy.

It just kills me to see the young girls coming down here

So young, you know, like 12 years old, 13 years old

Out there on the street corners, you know

having to turn tricks for drugs

and for their pimps.

If it stops even one of them

from coming down here

and going back home,

that would make me happy.

It would have been all worthwhile.

There are more local, photo-based works of representation and self-representation: for example, Pivot Legal Society’s 2004 “Portrait Calendar Project,” in which 110 black-and-white disposable cameras were given to interested Downtown Eastside residents who documented their daily lives through the themes of compassion, struggle, joy, courage, faith, and friendship. In a project called “What are the immediate health care needs of male street youth and what is their role as educators of medical trainees?” UBC Pediatrie Residents and the Boys R Us drop-in centre gave disposable cameras to male and transgendered sex trade workers to photograph specific aspects of their lives; the photographs became hinges between them, starting dialogues which Boys R Us’s John Fisher said were meaningful to the boys-“they felt listened to about their lives”-and helped to educate the doctors. This project was approved by UBC’s Ethics Committee, and each step of the photo process was governed by the boys’ consent. As well, PACE’s (Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education Society) current “Journey Women” creative project (in many media) honours the lived experiences of survival sex workers in Vancouver; and Collective Echoes’ public art projects by Downtown Eastside youth-for instance, their “Big Picture: Media Interventions” billboards and bus shelters in 2002-make alternative uses of social documentary photography. At times inspired and facilitated by photography’s implicated histories and practices, these local works are part of international and community cultural activist projects (Felshin; Butler “Making Waves”).

In most of the Heroines photographs, the women are pictured alone and isolated, but there is one notable exception: a “group portrait” taken on Mother’s Day: Photo 039: May 10, 1998/Chinatown Alley, 53 East Pender Street.

Clarkes had, for years, wanted to take a photograph in memory of the Montreal Massacre of fourteen women. That spring he found himself overwhelmed by women wanting their photographs taken. There were so many women waiting for him that morning in the alley between Chinatown and the Old Portland hotel that the idea for a group portrait arose spontaneously. Even as he set up the shot, more women arrived. Only after printing the shot did he realize that the photograph he had been thinking about for so long had taken itself. (Dietrich-Campbellll2)

I have been carrying my copy of Heroines around with me for some time now, so I have had the chance to experience different people’s approaches to and relations with it. At the Prisoner’s Justice Day Rally at Trout Eake in August, I met a First Nations Elder named Gwen who thumbed through it, looking for women she knew; she told me about a few of the pictured women-“She works at Carnegie Centre,” “She doesn’t use drugs now,” “She’s not a sex worker”-and then her daughter and grand-daughter (a little girl with blonde pigtails named Unity) came along, and she pointed out a photo saying “I know her, I used to go to elementary school with her.” For audiences who look through Heroines, looking for or finding women they know, whole, complicated people are remembered in the context of their lives-their friends, family, activisms, etc.-not (only) social “types.” Without exception, all were surprised to find the women unnamed.

There are also audiences with a less lived connection with the women pictured in Heroines. For those who commute through the Downtown Eastside, the point of connection may be narrative (a point along the way); for Cosmopolitan readers, it might be a body image or clothing style; for those who have had near misses, a feeling of relief; for the “privileged,” a commitment to their own continued safety and position; for the parochial, exoticism; for witnesses, historical consciousness; for activists, manifest oppression and desires for social change.

And for anyone looking at Heroines (whether empathetic, predatory, touristic etc.) there’s the possibility of scopophilia, voyeurism, fetishism, disavowal, displacement, transformation, idealization, identification, implicatedness-terms through which theorists engage with images. In Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings, Denise Blake Oleksijczuk cites feminist psychoanalytic theorist Kaja Silverman in relation to Douglas’s panoramic photo Every Building on 100 West Hastings, a work with some strong associations to Clarkes’s project. Proposing that “one way of transforming our relations with the socially disprized is through the productive use of visual images,” Silverman says. “We need aesthetic works which will make it possible for us to idealize, and, so, to identify with bodies we would otherwise repudiate” (qtd. in Shier 99-100); and Oleksijczuk suggests that, in contrast to dominant representations of the Downtown Eastside which “continually warn us to stay away,” spectators of Douglas’s de-peopled (evacuated) panorama may “consciously and corporally implicate themselves in that which is disavowed”. Further, Oleksijczuk suggests that “the photograph’s deep emptiness provides an opening in which to contemplate the fate of Vancouver’s missing women. [… ] Its emptiness can be mobilized to evoke a space haunted by the socially disprized and unloved (10O).” She outlines Silverman’s two-stage process involved in looking at images: the first, immediate perception, is unconscious, while the second-the “slow process of looking again”-involves consciously reconsidering the value the image has for us; and it is here that we have “the opportunity to transform the processes through which we displace onto another what we deny in ourselves” which is crucial for establishing an ethical relation to the socially unloved (Oleksijczuk 110).

How does Lincoln Clarkes’s Heroines figure into this psychoanalytic visual ethicalpolitical project? As an aesthetic work which involves spectators with the “socially disprized or unloved” on the “Downtown Eastside,” Heroines may correspond with these first premises. But in Clarkes’s Heroines, it’s not a “deep emptiness” which is mobilized by spectators-of Douglas’s photo Oleksijczuk says “Spectators who seek a representation of Hastings Street that includes the human beings who live on it must conjure it on their own” (105)-but a series of photographs which offer, to different audiences, fullsome, contestable “realist” representations, some of them of (unnamed) missing and murdered women. What transpires, and for which “we,” during this “slow process of looking again” at Clarkes’s Heroines?

Clarkes’s portraits give [his subjects] back something that they all lost somewhere along the way: identity. And his fashion-trained sensibility offers us-in the composition and the poses of his subjects-painful ironies that can’t be dismissed. From out of their photographs, the women look us in the eye. We can’t help but look back: we are involved in an uncompromising and equal scrutiny. -Hodgson, xiii-xiv

As has been much remarked upon, almost all of the women photographed for Heroines are seen looking back at the camera, at you when you look at them (at each other when you close the book). Their “returned gaze” seems to give them power, to foreclose upon the viewers’ keyhole-peeping voyeurism, to create an exchange of looks, an acknowledgement between. Discursively, seeing the women photographed boldly look back while being seen counts as “humanizing.” This “returned gaze” has often been used as a way to counter, to counteract, the hierarchical set-up implicit in these power relations of looking. Still, we can ask how so many of the women pictured as Heroines came to look back, to return your gaze. Is it a manifestation of the women’s power, desire, or agency? Does it make it possible for the women and the audience to “make agency” together? Is it a sort of cultural etiquette? Does Clarkes ask them to? If he asks them to, what is the political and ethical status of a photographer-directed “returned gaze”? Is this a technique by which he “forces people to look at these women”? (Parr)

Many psychical and material processes are involved in describing the looks between a viewer and the women pictured as Heroines as “an uncompromising and equal scrutiny,” as Hodgson does in the above quote. I wonder, does this entail pretending away (disavowing) the fact that this is a book-a material fact which involves imaginative, psychical relations-and that the person looking at it can (voyeuristically) look/stare at the pictured women for as long as, and in any way that, you like, and they can’t see you. It’s not an interpersonal relation or intersubjective engagement, but a viewcr-ceiilred relation of power. And who is die first viewer?

What is wanted, by whom and how through these photographs? Is the old political question “who benefits” apt? Since the returned gaze has become an over-used trope and device in images from avant garde film to charity to advertising, is it completely ejdiausted, or are there ways in which the power of the returned gaze can be activated? Through all this, are any of the women’s returned gazes strong or surprising enough to countermand this overwhelming semiotic and interpellative photographic set-up?

Whereas Lincoln Clarkes variously inhabits the figure of the “kindly stranger,” the “compassionate observer” (Canning 122-23), and the fashion photographer/ portrait artist/social documentarian, from another perspective, he is the John and/or the pimp. While the women’s faces are mainly held in repose (the “natural” look)-another of the consistent, standardized elements of the cultural figure of Clarkes’s Heroines-through their gestures and bodily expressions, are some of the photographed women implicating Clarkes as a John and/or a pimp? Are they, within this genre, as cultural figures and as women living on the Downtown Eastside, counter-interpellating the photographer in his desire to show us his subjects, the subjects he wants to look at and the subjects he wants to “force us to look at”? Are they pointing out his self-implicatedness?

4. Lincoln Clarkes, Photo 007: February 20, 1999/alley, D.E.R.A., 425 Carrall Street; in Heroines (courtesy of Lincoln Clarkes and Anvil Press).
5. Lincoln Clarkes, Photo 082: August 8, 1998/back door, The Only Seafood, 20 East Hastings; in Heroines (courtesy of Lincoln Clarkes and Anvil Press).

In Photo 078: August 2,1998/Blue Eagle Café, 130 East Hastings Street, unlike ALL the other Heroines, unexpectedly, this heroine smiles openly (see Illus. 6). She is figured standing in a doorway, an entranceway, like so many of the women pictured, looking at, or past, the photographer; yet only this heroine and the cover heroine are within a doorway which is open. And only this heroine smiles openly. This heroine, amongst them, disrupts and exceeds and so shows up the assumptions, social relations and “social order,” stereotypes, material-semiotic practices, narratives and discourses, the representational regimes which Clarkes has otherwise drawn from and with. An open door, some breathing space (which I desire) for me and others around (and with) the (women inhabiting the) cultural figure of Clarkes Heroines.

6. Lincoln Clarkes, Photo 078: August 2, 1998\Blue Eagle Café, 130 East Hastings Street; in Heroines (courtesy of Lincoln Clarkes and Anvil Press)


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[Author Affiliation]

A cultural theorist, activist and installation artist, MARGOT LEIGH BUTLER teaches at S.F.U., Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and on alternative education projects on the Downtown Eastside. She is also a member of the Kootenay School of Writing collective.

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