VICE: How did the series begin? Lincoln Clarkes: Leah, a solid friend who died in 1999 of a heroin overdose, introduced me to that addicted subculture. We frequently ran into each other for near a decade, she was usually engulfed in bizarre, surreal situations. But it all started the summer morning of meeting Patricia Johnson, who eventually went missing, and her two girlfriends. When photographing the trio, it became a Film Noir episode of drama. The portrait of them strung out on the steps of the Evergreen Hotel on Columbia St. brought me to my knees and made friends cry. I willingly slid into the new obsession of documenting at that point, in the vein of Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, portraying social injustice and calling attention to the plight of addicted women. Within a few months the whole country was welling up with tears, and the police finally noticed.
Was it difficult to gain access to these women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside? Everybody is suspicious in the heroin/crack ghetto, but it’s also a friendly place. When walking into those streets and alleys you’re really walking into their living room, dining room, and bedroom. During this series a female assistant usually accompanied me, someone the Heroines would find amusing and a joy to meet, and who really cared about their situation, giving them apples, applying band-aids, lighting their cigarettes, etc. We would always try to make them laugh, or they would tell us some sordid sad story. Getting the skinny of what was going down in the ‘hood or with them, they opened-up like butterflies to us and became very generous. We made a point of giving every one of them a picture of themselves, and promised that we would not divulge their identity, unless they died.