A fascination with hard drugs was birthed from the first aural glimpse of the Velvet Underground’s hauntingly bleak “Heroin” and culminated in a full-blown addiction for photographer and iconoclast Richard Kern. “It was a disaster,” he remembers as we discuss his latest London exhibition. Not one to stray far from the controversial, alongside his sought after celebrity shots, the US artist frequently laces his work with topics such as sex, drugs and nudity – common territory in both his photo work, such as an early zine titled The Heroin Addict, before changing its name to The Valium Addict, and his experimental films, featuring cult names such as Henry Rollins, Lydia Lunch and David Wojnarowicz. Cabinet, opening tomorrow, showcases work from Medicated (2010-2013), featuring his portraits of suburban 'drug addicts' in their own homes. “I'm not trying to say anything with these photos. They are just portraits,” he explains, revealing that the interviews conducted alongside the images will play a 'key part of the project.'
The project came about after “A woman working for me a few years ago told me that she was very jittery because she had taken too much Adderall. When I asked her about taking meds, she said that all of her friends took them too.” Seeing an opportunity for a new body of work, Kern asked her if he could shoot her and any friends who were on doctor prescribed pills, “I was surprised how many kids are medicated from an early age,” he says. Capturing the girls in their own surroundings was important to the photographer, “I need a certain type of bathroom for most of the series – hopefully where the girl lives,” he explains. “I also like the over the counter drugs like toothpaste and lotions that are in the bathrooms. For birth control pills I usually shoot in their bedroom.” The images themselves are a hauntingly real insight into modern day drug addiction. Forget the back alleys, dirty needles and hollowed out eyes, Kern’s images instead comment on the – perhaps even more frightening – realisation that anybody can fall foul of addiction, no matter how nice your bathroom is.
Cabinet is on show from 13 February – 21 March, 2015. For more, click here