Thursday, 7 February 2013


The last time I wrote about a Tony Fouhse exhibit, there were no people in the photographs.

This time, nearly three (three?!) years later, there was one person in the photograph and nearly everyone was there to see her.

She was Stephanie.

Stephanie had come to Ottawa to attend the official launch of Live Through This, the book of portraits that Tony had made of her during a dramatic, sometimes harrowing nine-months they spent together.

Stephanie is a former drug addict from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Tony met Stephanie while photographing crack addicts on the corner of Cumberland and Murray streets here in Ottawa for his series entitled User. Then a user herself, Stephanie agreed to be photographed as well.

Tony says he was drawn to Stephanie's ability to connect with her emotions and project them in a fearless, honest way. In the clip below, Tony explains how the two came together:

At one point Tony asked Stephanie if there was something he could do to help her. She asked him to help her get clean.

He said yes. Then, with Stephanie's full approval and willing participation, Tony chronicled her struggle to get off the street.

The journey took unpredictable turns: Stephanie would often disappear without a word. Most harrowing was her emergency surgery to remove an abcess in her brain, her flight from the hospital against medical advice after a mere four days and subsequent convalesence in Tony's house.

"The doctors told me she had a 50/50 chance of dying in the first week after surgery," Tony recalls. "I would go up every morning to see if she was still breathing or whether I had a corpse in my house."

I've been a strong supporter of Tony's work and made a modest financial contribution to this very project. Through his Drool blog I followed the developments in their relationship and the ethical questions Tony struggled with during the project and the book's creation.

"I was as honest as I could be with the blog, talking about my confusion and my horror and the weight it was putting on me, wondering about the decisions I was making. In a lot of situations every decision I could make was the wrong one."

In one exchange, Stephanie recalled asking Tony why he continued to stand by her, despite her self-admittedly "shitty" behavior.

"I don't want to be another man who's lied to you," he replied.

I was already familiar with the story. But until that night at the Carleton University Art Gallery, none of us save Tony and his wife Cindy, had ever met Stephanie.

Their hour-long talk covered addiction and ethics, aesthetics and existential dread. All the while, Tony and Stephanie recounted their story together with the same fearlessness and honesty that sparked their first meeting.

I found her charming, possessed of near Disney-like sweetness. Intense, too, and demonstrating a clear-eyed acknowledgement of what could have happened had she not met Tony.

"Oh, I'd be dead."

Stephanie has returned to New Glasgow, where she lives with her boyfriend and young son and benefits from the support of her family.

"I love it there," she says.

I wish her the best in her continued recovery.