Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Art on Drugs

Les Baker V, a photographer based in New Mexico, made a risky move when he decided to do his project INEBRI-NATION. It is a set of portraits that depicts people from various walks of life while they are under the influence of drugs. The goal of the project is to inform people about just how diverse the effects and users of drugs can be. He captures the faces of people when they are at the peak of their high and then superimposes images of the actual drug onto their faces.

(Left: Cocaine, Right: THC)

He got the idea for the project while he was working as a bartender. His experiences in various venues allowed to be exposed to many types of people. He observed the guests and slowly began to determine what drugs they were using, if any. He focused on people's eyes, which he says is the main clue that gives away what they are on. Different drugs present with different effects on people's eyes. As seen in the pictures below, there are distinct characteristics that appear in each case. Baker was inspired to focus on eyes by Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl".

Les Baker V was not hesitant to approach the topic of drugs. He was very open to learning about it without any bias. He uses the example that caffeine is a psychoactive substance used by 90% of adults in this country. Though it may not be as harmful as meth, it is still addictive but most people do not consider it to be in the same category as most other drugs. The culture in which we live in is often judgmental about drug users and most people hold prejudices that are simply not true. McLean describes culture as being "about deeply held assumptions, meaning and beliefs" (McLean 228). Baker tries to combat this by creating works that give people a look at the truth about drug users.

(Left: Methamphetamin, Right: Psilocybin)

Each individual that he photographed had a very different background and path to drug usage. He was very specific to point out that drugs are not restricted to homeless people or stereotypical drug users. Drug users come from various career backgrounds, ages, sexes and races. Baker states that "the individuals featured in this series showcase the diversity of those who use mind altering substances. They include students, servers, doctors, soldiers, lawyers, politicians, mothers, fathers, artists, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and judges." He includes a short snippet describing each person, the effects of the drug and their personal description of how they feel to give a deeper understanding of each user.

Baker's photography style is composed of mainly portraits. His main creative influence is Martin Schoeller, who uses faces to tells stories. Baker takes this one step further and uses eyes to tell stories. He hopes to continue this in his next project where he will use a similar theme to depict various mental illnesses. His goal with this project is also the same: to show the diversity of people who are affected my mental illness to dispel stereotypes about them. 


McLean, Laird D. "Organizational culture’s influence on creativity and innovation: A review of the literature and implications for human resource development." Advances in Developing Human Resources 7.2 (2005): 226-246.


  1. What an incredibly creative way to educate individuals on a routinely ignored social issue. Baker's photos are very compelling, and it is interesting how you said that he is trying to upturn a culture that is so deeply rooted in their beliefs. I wonder what other aspects of life he could showcase in order to dispel stereotypes. This is a great example of perspicacity!

  2. This is so cool! I agree with Dhara, this is a great way to educate people about stereotypes. I'd love to see what he does with the mental illness series. How did he approach people with the idea of photographing them? I imagine it'd be a little awkward/sensitive to be like, "I see by your eyes that you're a drug user..." Regardless, awesome idea for an art series. I love the commentary about caffeine--I definitely say I'm a caffeine addict myself and nobody really bats an eye about it.


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