Snapshot: ‘Closer To Heaven’ by Molly Harris

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Random Banter

Molly Harris isn’t your typical photographer. Through her controversial series of photographs titled ‘Closer to Heaven’, she provides insight into the ugly world of heroin addiction. Molly’s images may not be pretty, but they will certainly make you stop, look and think. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit with Molly and ask about her work on this brave project.

‘Closer to Heaven’ arose from Molly’s curiosity about a group of women she drove past regularly on her commute into the city for work. As a self-described “naturally curious person”, Molly became fascinated by the lives of these women and the stories they’d have to tell. She eventually approached them on the street. These three women, whom Molly says were “more than willing to share everything”, became the dark subjects of her photographic exploration of heroin abuse and prostitution.

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Over the course of three months, Molly spent each Thursday with them. She would arrive at their home, take them in her car to score drugs and sit patiently as they had unprotected sex with clients for drug money, all the while taking raw, unashamed photographs. Molly claims not to have felt uncomfortable or scared at any point. Any fear was overcome by her fascination with what was going on around her; “I felt invisible hidden behind my camera. When I was shooting, no one was taking any notice of me.”

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Despite spending many hours of her week with these women, Molly found it difficult to build any form of relationship or friendship. The sad reality for these women is that heroin consumes their lives completely. These women have been heroin addicts since the 1980s, one having been injected with the drug by her own father at the age of eleven. They receive weekly dole payments, most of which is spent on heroin. They have mobile phones and bank accounts, but that is the extent of their connection with any world outside of drugs. They have made numerous failed attempts to get clean over the decades.

Sadly, Molly has not maintained any form of contact with these women; “I can’t relate to them on any level. Heroin is all they want to talk about and do. They were too monopolised on themselves and their injection of drugs”. What is saddest about these women, Molly explains, is that they “know that heroin has ruined their lives. They were well aware of how different their lives would be if they didn’t have this addiction”.

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The response to Molly’s controversial photographs has been mixed. Many find the graphic nature to be extremely confronting, whilst many others show genuine interest and fascination in lives so different to our own. Molly hopes to raise awareness about these women and the thousands of others who suffer from drug addiction in her city. In a city Molly describes as “conservative”, it’s important to show different lifestyles and to gain insight into experiences so far from anything we will ever understand. On being asked about her own emotive response to the works, Molly is “empathetic to their situation. They have stood on the side of the road for twenty years, completely ignored”.


Visit Molly’s Facebook and Website:

https://www.facebook.com/mollyharrisphotography

http://mollyharris.com/gallery/c24ernbm0fs3qq37597el5semjdsi9

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The Author

My name is Emily and this is a place where I write about all of the things I love (and sometimes the things I don't love). These things I love include all sorts of people: strangers, friends and family alike. And writing of course! I've never liked giving descriptions of myself, so you'll have to read my random banter in order to get to know me.

7 Comments

  1. Open letter to Molly Harris photography.

    I’ve had a look at your photography. It’s crisp, raw and real. You’ve got a great eye for realism and an ability to bring that alive in your work.

    It stands out.

    It speaks volumes and brims with potential to tell the world real life stories in a sharp, hard hitting and honest way.

    This is why I find it so very sad that the way in which you have chosen to go about telling a particular story has violated a group of people who are so vulnerable and disenfranchised that you have now stolen the very essence of what is true about them.

    Not dissimilar, I imagine, to the feeling native tribesmen felt about early photography stealing their souls.

    Here was a group of women who trusted you with their lives, who were prepared to show you their intimate reality, in all its tainted glory. An opportunity for you to tell a story that could have grown into something that really changed the world. It could have shattered a mainstream perception and opened a door for honest debate – even game changing political movement.

    Imagine the accolades for your career in that scenario…

    Can you?

    Can you see beyond the shallow, instant gratification?

    Are you able to make your photography mean something?
    Or will it remain tarnished and hollow? Soulless and abusive.

    The only story you are currently telling in the piece of work I am referring to is that of self interest and shallowness. There is no depth to the story as soon as it is known that you do not have the blessing of those whom you depict. It is not them. It is a mockery of their very existence and survival. It immediately becomes a lie and an ethical nightmare from which I sincerely hope you will awaken from and reconsider.

    The potential held within such an action is endless and quite possibly the beginning of history in the making that could immortalise your work, rather than lumber it in with every other wannabe and have it not worth the media it’s printed on.

    I dare you to imagine …

    Regards

    Like

  2. Exploitative, tabloid and cruel – especially if what Sharon above says is true about these women no longer feeling comfortable with how they are being portrayed.

    To say you have any interest in understanding your subjects or attempt to offer insight into their lives is nonsense, considering how you condemned these women simply because you are too far removed from their experience. That you chose to judge them despite stepping on their shoulders for your own career is cruel and unnecessary. Why offer anything at all?

    Do you really thirst for notoriety via hateful shock tactical? There is no sensitivity given to the subjects – this is tabloid garbage. This is not art, this is fodder for the Murdoch press.

    Like

  3. The work created here has both serious and dangerous ramifications for sex workers in South Australia. It compromises the push for decriminalisation of sex work in the state, and further perpetuates dangerous myths and stereotypes that surround the sex work industry.

    As someone in a space of privilege, Molly Harris took the voice away from those whose voices are rarely heard, placing her own narrative over a minority group that are already intensely stigmatised and silenced by the media. This story has the propensity to further perpetuate the whore phobia that is already so dominant in media representation of sex workers.

    In the article Harris states that is it is her desire to experience and understand things that she doesn’t understand. How this connection is portrayed does not demonstrated a comprehensive understanding for street based sex workers experiences.

    SA sex workers and advocates have been working relentlessly for decades to have the laws around sex work updated to enable sex workers to experience the same levels of safety granted to everyone who engages in any kind of paid employment.

    Creating narratives that allow people who are not connected to sex worker to believe that sex workers are prostituted people who do not have the same bodily autonomy as non sex workers is both dangerous, and creates an idea that sex workers are separate to other members of the community. It furthers ideas that workers sell their bodies, as opposed to time and skill and that they are taking part in an activity that they have not chosen but simply been forced into. Statements such as “all of these women have a history of abuse” create a blanket statement that all sex workers have a foundation of abuse. One in three women have a history of abuse. Though it may be true that the women photographed here had experienced abuse, it does not acknowledge that experiencing abuse is prevalent among one third of the female population and that sex workers do not have a higher chance of having an abusive background than any other women. Telling the audience that these women shared terrible stories of their experiences from clients, the police and other sex workers, without any acknowledgement that this is due to sex workers having to operate in situations that are dangerous due to their profession being criminalized, presents the idea that sex work is an intrinsically dangerous occupation regardless of the situation.

    In SA street based sex workers are constantly targeted and harassed by police. This often means that workers need to work in ways which are unsafe or are they are made unnecessarily vulnerable. If sex workers were able to access the same support from the Government, police and health organisations as people in any other industry this would dramatically change the vulnerability street based workers can face.

    Arresting sex workers does not address the reason why someone would engage in sex work, nor keep working if they had a desire to leave. To make the statement “the only reason they prostituted themselves was because they had heroine addictions to support” ignores the many other systems that have failed vulnerable members of the community, and has given no space to the idea that the job opportunities to those who have been previously incarcerated are severely limited. This is echoed in other vulnerable members of the sex worker community who are gender diverse, single parents and those who live with addiction. There is a failure to emphasise that there are gaps in our health care system as well in the housing systems that are still failing to meets the needs of so many minority groups.

    SA Sex Industry Network (SIN) is working tirelessly to enable sex workers in SA to have greater control over their working situations, to create safe working environments, where workers can seek protection from the police, access health care freely and have their profession recognised without social stigma and discrimination.

    The women who are in the documentation have since stated that they do in fact feel uncomfortable about their images being used in this manner and have begged for the photographs to be removed from the internet…Molly has refused this request and has also refused to allow representatives of the women to sight photographic release forms which she states she has….this is just not good enough!

    Shame on you for exploiting vulnerable members of society to further your career Molly Harris

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: To Burma And Back With Photographer Molly Harris | Taggle Talk

  5. Nice. I’ve always wandered what a photo essay on my life would look like. I’m sure some would find it revolting, but I hope not everyone would feel that way.

    Liked by 1 person

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