The Hero of Heroines
Butler, Margot Leigh, Mosaic (Winnipeg)
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 cover of Heroines: Photographs by Lincoln Clarkes is a photograph of a blonde figure leaning in the doorway of a seedy cafe (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 cafe; 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, com-modified, 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.
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 Cafe, 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") (Allen 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. …