Research Communications

Pictures of Addiction 

Graduate Student Spotlight: Angela Shoemaker

April 28, 2011

A photo documentary by Angela Shoemaker, a graduate student in visual communication, spotlights The Netherlands’ unique approach to handling drug addiction: state-sponsored nursing homes for disabled, homeless addicts.

With funding from a Fulbright Scholarship, Shoemaker followed aging individuals living in a nursing facility who had been using drugs for 20 to 30 years. The government recognizes that some addicts aren’t able to or don’t want to be rehabilitated, and so provides treatment, care, and education instead of incarceration, the student explains.

Shoemaker followed the stories of aging drug addicts in Amsterdam.
Shoemaker followed the stories of aging drug addicts in Amsterdam.
Shoemaker followed the stories of aging drug addicts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Photos: Courtesy of Angela Shoemaker.

Many of the women Shoemaker photographed used drugs because they were sexually and physically abused in their youth. Several women turned to prostitution to support their drug addiction, and later developed diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

The residents of the nursing home are considered the first generation to use crack, which didn’t exist before the 1970s. They used the drug recreationally without realizing its addictive qualities; one man at the facility described crack as “a sentence to hell.”

Shoemaker, who plans to display her work in America and The Netherlands, hopes her photographs will change people’s perspectives of drug addiction. She believes that too often people view drug addiction as a choice, blaming the drug addict, and fail to look at the societal influences that contributed to the problem.

“I hope to promote empathy and understanding for people who have fallen through the cracks, for people who make different choices in life,” Shoemaker says. “Many of the drug addicts’ lives were tragic. Drugs were their outlet.”

By Milissa Hudepohl

Editor’s Note: View more of Shoemaker’s work at her website, Earlier this year, Shoemaker began work on a television pilot about world music called “Raw Music International.” She spent four weeks shooting video for the first show in Kisumu, Kenya.

This story will appear in the spring/summer 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine.