Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Darcy Padilla's Julie Project: when photography becomes humanitarian

From the Guardian

"Darcy Padilla's award-winning 18-year project documents the life and death of one woman, capturing in miniature the plight of America's 'permanent poor'

In November, Darcy Padilla, a San Francisco-based documentary photographer, was awarded the 2010 W Eugene Smith award in humanistic photography. The award, which includes a $30,000 grant, is bestowed annually on a photographer who upholds the tradition of what the judges describe as Smith's "concerned photography and dedicated passion". Padilla certainly fits the bill.

She began the Julie Project 18 years ago, in 1993. Through thousands of pictures, as well as letters, journal entries, logs of phone conversations and newspaper cuttings, it tracks the blighted life of Julie Baird, a women Padilla first met in 1993 in the lobby of San Francisco's run-down Ambassador hotel – "barefoot, pants unzipped, and an eight-day-old infant in her arms". Back then, Julie was 18, and lived with a man called Jack, from whom she had contracted Aids. She was strung out on heroin, and had been living on the streets since running away from home at 14.

"For the last 18 years", Padilla writes on her website, "I have photographed Julie Baird's complex story of multiple homes, Aids, drug abuse, abusive relationships, poverty, births, deaths, loss and reunion. Following Julie from the backstreets of San Francisco to the backwoods of Alaska."

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