Exhibitionists·Behind The Photo

Her father overdosed. These photos are her powerful tribute

For Vancouver-based photographer Jackie Dives, the opioid crisis is much more than a statistic: it is the epidemic that claimed her father's life.

Inside Jackie Dives's deeply personal photo series dealing with the grief of losing her father

"My grandfather painted this portrait of me when I was in elementary school and it was the one thing I desperately wanted to find when going through my Dad’s belongings." (Jackie Dives)

This video contains an image that may be upsetting to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, over 1400 people died from an illicit drug overdose in British Columbia in 2017 — an increase of 43% from the year before. But for Vancouver-based photographer Jackie Dives, the opioid crisis is much more than a statistic: it is the epidemic that claimed her father's life.

"When I found out about my dad's death from an overdose, I immediately went to my camera for support," she says. "There was never even a consideration to take 'normal' photos — it was instinctively going to be double exposures. I didn't think about it too much; I just started shooting them."

Watch the video:

"A Room for the Pain", Jackie Dive's emotional photo tribute to her father. 2:00

For the photo series, titled "A Room for the Pain," Dives re-visited the places she had gone to with her father to document her grief. There was The Murray Hotel, the single-room-occupancy building where her dad died; there was his storage locker. She visited places that reminded her of him to reconnect with his memory.

It was a deeply sad and confusing time for her, so she turned to something familiar — photography — as a way to heal and move through her complex emotions. "For the first time I was able to use the camera to accurately depict what was happening for me on the inside. I was shooting inward, instead of outward, and the resulting images feel accurate."

"I went to see his body and the bizarre art in the room was really distracting." (Jackie Dives)

But beyond just working through her own mourning, she hopes the photos can also help change the stigma around addiction.

"These photos are a departure from the stigmatizing, single-narrative images that are commonly associated with this issue," she says. "I hope this series will guide people toward thinking about drug use through a lens of harm reduction and human rights. I want this series to be used to support drug users and change laws in a way that is more reflective of the realities of addiction."

"There was very little in his room that I recognized. It wasn't until after I got the scans back for this roll of film that I remembered I had given him that Vancouver mug over 15 years ago." (Jackie Dives)

While the imagery in this series is deeply personal, Dives ultimately hopes that her dad's story and this photo series can become a catalyst for change in the opioid overdose crisis. "Not all people who die from an overdose are 'addicts.' I think the world likes to put people in 'addict' or 'not an addict' categories. And for the most part, if you fall into the 'addict' category, the world feels like they can ignore you." But the reality of these emotional photographs is hard to ignore.

See more photos from the series:

"Both the T.V. and the radio were on in the room where my dad died." (Jackie Dives)
"My dad was my number one fan. But he drank so much near the end that we couldn’t have a conversation anymore. I couldn't figure out how to communicate with him, so I stopped." (Jackie Dives)
"Coincidentally, I was in Mexico for work during Dia de los Muertos, shortly after my dad died. This celebration resonated deeply with me." (Jackie Dives)
"Three days after I found out my dad had died from an overdose I attended a memorial for loved ones lost to overdose." (Jackie Dives)

This project was supported by The Uncharted Journalism Fund.

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.

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