Graham MacIndoe – Coming Clean (4 stars)

Graham MacIndoe – Coming Clean

'Untitled' from the series Coming Clean / credit: Graham MacIndoe

A dark and honest insight into the photographer's past battles with drug abuse

There's a sense of bittersweet homecoming to this exhibition of self-portraiture from Scots photographer Graham MacIndoe, who was raised in Armadale and Broxburn, studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art and photography at London's Royal College of Art, and who now lives in New York. It was in the latter city that MacIndoe found the troubles which ultimately led to this exhibition; skirting around 'some upheaval in my personal life mixed with bad choices' in the texts which accompany the work, he sank into a cycle of sustained drug abuse, mainly of crack and heroin.

Through what one can only imagine was some weird combination of self-awareness, masochism and professional instinct, he acted on the urge to document his existence with a cheap, self-timed digital camera – not intending to made the results public, but now clean and sober (and also highly-regarded as a magazine and newspaper photographer), and in a position to show an audience 'what addiction looks like from the inside'. 'Set' in the cheap Brooklyn housing project where he lived at the time, this set of interiors is suitably grimy and unattractive, all pallid, medical strip-lighting, grubby, unattended-to furniture and nakedly revealing images of the actual intravenous process of drug use.

In contrast to the healthy portrait shot at the entrance to the show, the Graham MacIndoe in these images is a pallid green ghost, occasionally lent a kind of garish beauty by the flicker of a lighter's glow amid the darkness or a bright, religious white light washing through his window and threatening to erase him from existence. This may be the rapture of being on drugs or of deciding to leave them behind, but the remarkably open and honest set seen here combine a sense of cinematic drama with an absolute absence of glamour. The outside world breaks through only in the most distant and disinterestedly anonymous shot of the New York skyline, and in an accompanying montage of threatening judicial letters, reminders of a darker time that it must have taken a lot of bravery – or simple devotion to the process of documentary – to reveal.

Graham MacIndoe – Coming Clean is at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 5 Nov.

Graham MacIndoe: Coming Clean

Images recording the photographer's addiction to heroin.

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