Micropolis: Images of Addiction in the Bronx

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Michael, aka Michelle, is one of the subjects of "Portraits of Addiction" (Chris Arnade)

In this episode of Micropolis, WNYC's Arun Venugopal ventures into the home of Michael, a transsexual prostitute and heroin addict -- and, as you can hear in the segment above -- given to baking cookies for her guests.

Michael, who also goes by the name Shelly, or Michelle, is one of the subjects of "Portraits of Addiction," an ongoing project by Wall Street trader-turned-photographer Chris Arnade and writer Cassie Rodenberg. 

The series, now in its third year, brings viewers into close contact with addicts and prostitutes in Hunts Point, in the Bronx. View the series Tumblr here, or the Flickr page.

In addition to images, the project gives us insights into the lives of its subjects. Thirty-five year old Vanessa, seen below, "was standing on the cold street corner looking for business, wearing only flip flops and smoking with her two friends." When asked how she wanted to be described, one friend jumped in and said "She's the sweetest woman I know. She will give you the shirt off her back, if she has one on."

Beauty, below, was 21 at the time the photo was taken, and originally from Oklahoma. She'd been through at least nine pimps.

Eric and Sonya with Boo Boo the kitten. They had lost their three children to the state but wouldn't give up their cats. At times, their illegal basement apartment has been flooded with raw sewage.


More in:

Comments [14]

Chris Arnade

Ed Garcia
I understand your frustration. I have written about the positives in the Bronx. This particular piece is one I have pushed hard:

Still when community leaders like yourself are unwilling to talk about and document the struggles of the large population struggling with addiction and poverty in your very own borough then who will look at them?

Sex workers and addicts suffer from neglect by everyone. By police, by their family, by many in their own community.

When their words and stories are not heard then others can fill the gap with negative narratives such as, "Its their own fault."

I applaud the work you have done. I hope more people come to visit the Bronx, more teachers teach in the schools, and more businesses invest. That can be done and still not neglect the neglected.

Apr. 18 2013 02:59 PM
Ed Garcia Conde from Melrose, The Bronx

Mary Nader - No one is condemning anyone for having worked on Wall Street. The point is that many folks in the Bronx, including myself, community leaders are tired of those who come in to the Bronx to report on such sensationalistic topics when we have come so long from that era. This is a topic that is constantly being spoken about in the Bronx. No one is denying that there is a lot of work to be done still and we are all doing our share to make it so.

As an activist from the Bronx who has lived all my life in the borough and have written extensively on the topic, I can assure you that it's stories like these that continue to fuel the global perception of what the Bronx is all about. When we have visitors from the outerboroughs at local cultural events, the first thing out of their mouths is always, oh, i had no idea how nice it is up here; we expected a far more depressing and dangerous place. The culprit? Journalists who choose to focus on the negative vs. the positive.

Apr. 18 2013 02:08 PM
Mary Nader from Queens, NY

Ed Garcia Conde--this is a hopeful story about the Bronx. It's an honest story told in the voice of someone who experiences the reality of the Bronx. It is Michael's life. No where does anyone say that this is all there is to Hunt's POint. And is anyone who is trying to make a difference to be condemned for once having worked on Wall Street?

Apr. 18 2013 12:49 PM
Ed Garcia Conde from Melrose, The Bronx

NPR jumps on the bandwagon to continue propagating the past history of Hunts Point – and indeed the Bronx in this somewhat follow up to the Chris Arnade disaster of a few years back. You know, the guy who worked on Wall Street and decided to trek to Hunts Point to photograph the sex workers? To any reader outside of the Bronx, they will read these stories and pretty much believe that that is all there is to this neighborhood.

The Bronx still has a long way to go in shedding its tarnished past although we have definitely gotten a better perception now than anytime before the Great Decline, however, it seems that poor Hunts Point will never get a break. ”Journalists” seem to just latch on to that image of it for what seems to be purely sensationalistic reasons. There is SO MUCH MORE coming out of Hunts Point than this garbage.

Apr. 18 2013 11:19 AM

Another 1 percenter capitalizing on the misery of the poor....and profiting.

Apr. 18 2013 08:36 AM
JoAnn Vincent from Fair Haven , NJ

Thank you Arun. I sincerely hope this project gets a lot MORE ATTENTION.
Addiction is a terrible waste of people. Fine people - sons, daughters,moms, dads, sisters, brothers, etc. It has rent families of all classes, races ethnicity through the generations.

Apr. 18 2013 07:27 AM
Sehra from Manhattan

Arun, you've come a long way since we met at the SAJA conference in the mid 2000s! We're all proud of you. I deeply appreciate what this series uncovers and explores...and look forward to more insightful, thought-provoking work from you and WNYC. It's why we support public radio.

Apr. 17 2013 04:46 PM
Camille M. from NJ

Addiction is a powerful disease and literally takes years away from a person who is caught up in it. The addict roars through people's lives like a tornado. I'm glad there is more exposure and knowledge of what's happening out there on the street. Thank you for the article.

It would be a wonderful thing to get some of these people help and if even one of them makes it... post a picture of the before and after, the difference of what can happen when a person surrenders to the disease and decides to get help!

Apr. 17 2013 03:49 PM
kate Milkens from brooklyn

Really enjoy Micropolis and the range of stories covered

Apr. 17 2013 12:27 PM
rosemary M from Virginia

I just want to give Beauty a hug, tell her she is worth so much more, there is a better way. Do not give up

Apr. 17 2013 09:04 AM

Thank you for this story. I had to stop working, look at the photos and cry.

Apr. 17 2013 08:44 AM
Val from Sheboygan, WI

Michael called him/herself a prostitute - also s/he called others 'hookers'. Let them tell their own story.
Job well done, Arun. I've been following Chris's work for a while now and it was very interesting to not just read/see it but to hear it as well.
Glad the cookies were good :)

Apr. 17 2013 08:42 AM
Bill from Manhattan

Great radio. Thanks.

Apr. 17 2013 08:30 AM
Marie Coughlan from Australia

Please stop using the pejorative label "prostitute" when referring to sex workers. Sex workers have fought long and hard to be called sex workers - do them the courtesy of using the term that they prefer.

Apr. 17 2013 05:05 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About Micropolis

Little Bits of a Big City


Supported by