Justin Maxon

2018 - Ongoing

According to the World Health Organization, addiction to illicit drugs is the most stigmatizing condition. Social stigma surrounding substance use disorder pushes the user to the fringes of society, rejecting and excluding community participation on the basis of a socially discredited health condition.

Eureka! is an ongoing project which seeks to destigmatize substance use in Eureka, CA, USA. This is my hometown, substance abuse no stranger, and recovery a triumph. The California Report labeled Eureka as one of the “most dangerous and drug-addicted communities” in the state. Editorial news often relies on cursory symbolism to drive complex stories, which creates binary assumptions, preconceptions, and generalizations.. By choosing to focus on actual drug use, the media highlights individual accountability in depicting addiction rather than looking at the systems that create the condition for abuse. This subjects the user’s internal belief systems to an outsider’s lens, thus manufacturing the social construction of stigma.

I work to combat this by depicting individuals with substance use disorders as fully human possessing a range of thoughts, feelings and expressions. I ask the people in the photographs to caption their own image when possible to share the power of representation. I explore the multiplicity of where stigma is placed and by whom it is placed. Stigma not only adheres to an individual but also to physical spaces. When members of the local community come upon a disrupted environment that lacks context they often blame substance abusers for the disruption. I look for these disrupted environments to throw into question preconceived notions placed on substance abusers.

This work captures everyday life surrounding substance abuse to illustrate our shared humanity, rather than portraying a singular and sensationalized version of complex, politicized issues. Issues that have become commonplace in small towns and large cities alike across America.

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  • "My name is Kim Johnson, I’ve lived here in Humboldt County all of my life. My really good friend, Mama Dee and I are sitting playing angry bird on her phone. We were just trying to hang out one step ahead of the cops. You get one or two people together and they want to chase you around. It’s hard when nobody really wants you around. We have been through quite a lot together, camping next to each other. We have never been in a relationship. A lot of people like to come to me cuz I have Band-Aids or whatever they need, a lot of women cuz I don’t come onto them so they feel secure around me. I play games everyday..It's just something to keep my mind occupied. So I’m not out doing drugs or chasing drugs. I’ve been clean for over a year and a half probably. Now the drugs aren't drugs no more, it’s whatever Mexico wants to send up here, you’re just poisoning yourself. I should have realized that many years ago but I didn’t."

  • Two young cousins are seen blowing dandelion weeds at each other. They both are visiting a family member who lives in a houseless encampment near a shopping area in Eureka.

  • Janita Nelson is seen drying off her clothing under a tarp with a small fire made from plastic in a break during a heavy rain storm in Eureka. She has been houseless and dealing with substance abuse issues for over 10 years. During that span she had her 3 children taken away from her by Child Protective Services. She tries to stay in touch with them despite the distance.

  • A blanket is seen wrapped around grass in downtown Eureka.

  • A young man, named Jacob, is seen wearing a unicorn outfit sitting at a bus stop after having just thrown up. At the time of this photography, he was houseless and dealing with substance abuse.

  • An abandoned car is seen at Samoa beach, outside of Eureka. Stigma not only adheres to an individual but also to physical spaces. Members of the local community in Eureka at times blame disrupted environments that lack certain context (who/when/why) on substance use because of social stigma. (On a Eureka Facebook group page): "The person who left that truck was some drug addict that probably didn't want to get in trouble by getting authorities out there for help. When I saw it all the trash washing out of the truck including all the drug paraphernalia! Nasty stuff and trash everywhere around it!" 

  • "Hello my name is Lori Washburn. I’m standing in front of my everything, my clothes, my blankets, my pillows, my jewelry, my dishes, my tools, my food. The Eureka Police Department kicked us out of the house because the owner passed away who was letting us stay as long as we were working to keep the house from getting condemned. Officer Sanchez had been harassing us, trying to see us put out. When John the owner died, it gave him the excuse to evict us. They only gave us 24 hours to vacate the premises and to have all our belongings out. That day it was raining I remember, they were bulldozing the sheds out back. Our options were to sleep in our vehicle on the street with our stuff…I was with my kids my doggies. Louie, my partner of 6 years, and I treat them like our children. Tata and little man. Tata gives me strength, encourages me to go on when life is bad, giving her love and attention fills me with love and attention. She is my little cutie too cuz she does go meow."

  • A collection of ink pens are seen on the ground after being driven over in Eureka.

  • Honey Dew Mellon is seen fixing her friend's, Wendy Quinteros, hair. They have been close for five years and just days before were both released from the Humboldt County Correctional Facility after serving a sentence for possession for sale and maintaining residence for distribution of narcotics. They chose split sentences, where they can do their multiple years of time in installments. They have served time together on five different occasions.

  • Froot Loops cereal is seen scattered on the ground in the front a store front in Eureka, where a houseless person slept the night before.

  • A man is seen sweeping trash behind the Royal Inn in Eureka.

  • A broken drain spout is seen during a heavy rain storm in Eureka.

  • "Nick and Semilla, To anyone that knows us that means so many things. It means it's always Nick and Semilla, there is never just one of us, we are always together, we have been together so long, 11 years! It means trouble, It's mean crazy love, we would do anything for each other, one time I was kidnapped by a drug dealer who was going to kill me because I ripped him off and Nick rescued me with all his friends, it was so crazy. It means through thick and thin, through good times and bad, freezing our asses off in the rain, on Christmas, soaking wet; we were living with his mom taking care of her and she died and we became homeless afterwards. It means survival, me and him, if someone else had something and we needed it to survive, I would take it, we wouldn't hurt no buddy, but we not were gonna starve, we were gonna survive. It means protecting each other. It means us waiting for each other, it means him waiting for me when I'm in jail, when I'm in rehab."

  • An abandoned wig is seen along the side of the road in Eureka.

  • "We have been homeless for two years. We are now in a motel room temporarily for the next 6 weeks as we await a housing grant that will hopefully pay our rent for two years, so we can get back on our feet. CPS took our kids in September of 2017. I had them back in December. They didn’t have a right to keep my kids and I fought diligently to prove that. I got my kids back at the second court date which is unheard of. It sparked an investigation by DHSS because it’s so rare. They gave me our kids back when we were homeless, they normally make you get housing first, which is what sparked the investigation. Who am I to have special treatment, it wasn’t that, it was that I could sue their asses and they knew it. They had no right to take our kids. They didn’t have a dirty drug test, it’s not illegal to be homeless. Homelessness is not a legitimate reason in the state of California take your children."

  • "My name is Elizabeth Company, aka Lizzy, I love catching hermit crabs to paint their shells. I was looking for the biggest one I could find. I had a dream once where I caught one the size of a tea pot. When I was a kid, I always tried to make small objects their home like a spool of thread. Tranquility. Peace. People are sucked into their phones. They miss the natural beauty around them. i like to appreciate it. When you are able to see the miracle that happens around you all the time, it increases your quality of life, even when you are going through a hard time. I love my life."

  • "I am Janita Nelson and i have been on the streets for ten years of my life. And to be honest with you its always easier to do it with someone evened though thing s get kinda rough. Dylan is my ex boyfriend and we were fighting because I had found out he had been sleeping with my sister and he wasn't coming up front with it. He was trying to get my goat while I was cooking dinner after going grocery shopping for about ten people who we were camping with. Even though it seems kinda pointless to be in a relationship and be homeless, I think that it is important to have someone there to help you out in frustrating times and even though it may get frustrating there's also good times with those bad ones. So in the end ways out to where you are not completely alone in this world. Just because I am homeless doesn't mean i have to be alone to walk this world by myself."

  • A man and a women are seen holding each other on the sidewalk on 4th street in Eureka.

  • A used needle is seen sticking in a branch in the wooded area of Coopers Gulch in Eureka. The gulch is known as a place where houseless people sleep. There is a tremendous amount of vitriol against substance users in Eureka because of the perception of needle refuse being visible in many areas of the city. Houseless advocates say the debate over the needle refuse could be solved if there were more affordable housing because their possessions would be indoors where they lived.

  • A broken Chevron billboard is seen in the Humboldt Bay near Eureka.