About photobooks – old and new.
Title: The Ninth Floor
Author: Jessica Dimmock
Published in 2007 by Contrasto (Italy).
4to, photographically illustrated hardcovers, no dust jacket
Jessica Dimmock (1978) isa documentary photojournalist and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York City. Her work has appeared in Aperture, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, New York Magazine and Fader. Prior to pursuing documentary photography Jessica worked as a public school teacher in Brooklyn.
The project and photobook “The Ninth Floor”, documented the lives of a group of young heroin users over the course of several years, who were living in the apartment of a former millionaire turned heroin user, Joe Smith, 63, in the flatiron district of Manhattan.
Joe, the leaseholder of the apartment, had allowed originally one of his young tricks to take a spare bedroom in his 3 bedroom apartment. “By the time that I met them several years later, nearly 15 people were living in the apartment at a time – Joe had given up his bedroom and stayed on a dirty sofa in the living room opting to take a teaspoon of methadone, a daily bag of dope, a beer or several cigarettes in exchange for rent.
Electrical cords snaked through dark hallways to fill each room with the light of one lone bulb, bookshelves and tables had been stripped of all potentially valuable items to be sold on the street to get money to feed habits, the dead cat found in the bathroom took more than 2 weeks to remove, and the people moved through the halls, past each other, wearing their addictions like chipping armor, while their personalities and character remained further and further unearthed and unfed.”
At times, “I almost felt like I was doing a portrait of the specific place,” says Jessica. But this project goes beyond”a portrait of that apartment, and what went on inside there”, by documenting the life of several of the residents after their eviction, as they face jail and sickness, fight and love, attempt to get clean, sink deeper into addiction, start families and struggle to survive.
Jessica explains her deep motivation for this documentary, which balances quite well the potential voyeuristic interest and the empathy with the subjects: “as the child of a former drug abuser, there was something hauntingly familiar upon entering this space for the first time. I recalled the friends of my father I had been brought to as an 8 year old – the lone bulb hanging in the corner, the vacant and un-engaging grown ups, the mattresses without sheets, and the crying baby that could never seem to get the attention of the adults in the room, even when she had rolled onto the cement floor.”
“I have been motivated to do this work from my personal history, a concern about the destructive effects of drug abuse, and a commitment to make photographs that are socially relevant.” One could add, that the photographs are not only socially relevant, they are well composed as well, very graphic at moments, but also buoyant and colorful.
This work on heroin abusers gave Jessica the F award for Concerned Photography from Forma and Fabrica, the Inge Morath Award from Magnum, the Marty Forsher Fellowship for Documentary Photography from PDN, and was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award for the Project Competition from the Santa Fe Center for Photography.