Using heroin has a deleterious effect. What starts out slow, as a nod off into a warm embrace can quickly become a cold solo pursuit, with negative actions piling on top of each other. This process erodes identity, finance and relationships. It's a no-win game that's been powerfully captured by photographer George Holder in his stark black and white series.
In Right as Rain, Holder turns his lens to a male subject and the life he leads of; his dog, thinning possessions, solitude. Although the drug itself doesn't appear, it's effects are omnipresent, even overbearing, in each photograph. Maybe it's because it's a narrative that we all know too well - the path that heroin use can lead to.
Or maybe it's the tone, set by the mono palette and permeated through a subtly dark poetry. The images are horrific, but also romantic, such are the depictions of drug use that we have come to know. The libertine, the tortured soul, the person who had it all but chose to give it away. We don't know these individuals, can only look at them and guess. It's in this guessing game that we can take the most from the images, as we weave together our own traumas, and that of people we know and stories we've heard, and place them onto Holder's subject.
The lack of focus in some of the images, or the vaguely blurred technique, casts a dreamlike haze over the images, like an Instagram filter of the drug itself. We're there, in the room, in the garden, watching someone's life slowly fall apart. As much as we want to, there's nothing we can do about it.
It is the pervasive loneliness that is most haunting, hinted at in the title Right as Rain. It's a British saying denoting that everything is good. No need to worry. I'm fine and dandy. We might see an addict, emaciated, pock-marked, distant. The finished product, the end of the line. But we didn't see how it started, or the journey, only that it has ended in addiction. Even that isn't the end of the whole story - but we all have an indication of what that could be.
Who is the figure in these images? To us, it can be everyone, anyone. To Holder - it's his father. The story he has decided to tell is painfully close, achingly intimate and, with this context, deeply profound. The loneliness that exudes from the images does so, even though the subject's son is there with him the whole time. There is the person and there is the drug. Eventually, the two become indistinguishable.
Of the series, the writer had a few words to say, their starkness and vivid evocation of youth and time past provide a poignant backdrop for the series, "I remember when I found out about my Dad’s heroin addiction so vividly. I must have been around 14 years old. I was waiting in the McDonalds drive-thru with my Mum. I don’t remember how we got on the topic of it, I just remember not being hungry afterwards.
Having held onto the thought from the age of 14 up until the series, exactly half of his life - Holder's idea of addiction and his father's relationship with himself and the drug will have morphed and evolved through his own passage into adulthood and its attached maturation.
The series acts as a bridge, connecting the two, but also reaching out to Holder's future as a photographer. He's made it clear that he can shoot one of life's most difficult subjects - those closest to home - and retain a degree of objectivity. From this, the series shows it strengths. It could be anyone's dad, friend or even themselves. Addiction can be easy enough to fall into, but almost impossible to climb out from.
Exorcising these thoughts, years after finding out about his father's problem, Holder has made steps towards a healing process, initially for himself, and hopefully his father. Through the images, we are in his shoes, and by wearing them, realise the true power of Right as Rain as a statement on addiction, family, love and the passage-of-time.
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