Working closely with Time’s Paul Moakley, the pair traveled the country, spending months on the streets of Boston and San Francisco, on patrol with first responders in Ohio, New Mexico and West Virginia, visiting clinics in New Hampshire, in jail cells in Kentucky and at prayer meetings in Massachusetts, gathering stories from the drug users, families, and others at the heart of the epidemic. For the project, Nachtwey’s images are paired with voices from Moakley’s interviews with more than 200 subjects. The result is “The Opioid Diaries,” the first issue in Time’s 95-year history devoted entirely to one photographer’s work.
The editors of Time write, “We are in the midst of a national emergency that affects every state, every income group and virtually every age. While the burden has fallen disproportionately on the least-educated Americans, tens of millions of us are no more than one degree of separation from someone struggling with addiction… [This Time special report] is a human accounting of the toll opioids are taking on American life, the people behind the statistics.”
The editors of Time continue, “Over more than three decades, James Nachtwey has photographed war, famine and terror around the world for Time. He was at the Twin Towers as they crumbled on September 11 and in Baghdad as American tanks rolled in… Nachtwey goes where others desperately try to flee, enduring gunfire and grenades out of the belief that the only way to stop the suffering is by bearing witness to it… Last year, we asked Nachtwey to bear witness to a pressing human crisis in his home country.”
On the Opioid Diaries, James Nachtwey writes, “The only way to make real sense of [the opioid epidemic], I told my editors, was to see what happens to individual human beings, one by one… Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level. Never is photography more essential than in moments of crisis. To witness people suffering is difficult. To make a photograph of that suffering is even harder… Over the past 35 years, my work as a photojournalist has taken me to other countries to document wars, uprisings, natural disasters and global health crises. In revisiting my own country I discovered a national nightmare. But the people living through it aren’t deviant. They are ordinary citizens, our neighbors, our family members… I also saw signs of hope, particularly from the people who are dealing with the crisis at street level… They are refusing to allow our country to be defined by this problem. They are helping find solutions. We must join them.”
>> Read the Opioid Diaries and see James Nachtwey’s complete portfolio of pictures from his reporting across the country.
>> Watch short documentaries about the lives behind the Opioid Diaries.
>> Why Time spent one year documenting the opioid crisis in America
>> Read the interviews
Read first-hand accounts of loss and resilience by Time contributors:
Rev. William Barber: How we can address racial inequalities in handling drug addiction
Mimi O’Donnell: Forgiveness helped me heal after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death
Elizabeth Wurtzel: Giving up drugs was the hardest thing ever. And I have cancer
The March 5, 2018 issue of TIME goes on sale on Friday, February 23, 2018.
Meredith Corp. is a member of FIPP.
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