Monday, February 28, 2011

The Julie Project

In 1993, photographer Darcy Padilla met 19 year old Julie. At the time, Julie was living with her boyfriend Jack in a hotel with their 8 day old daughter. Both Julie and Jack were HIV positive. Through the next 18 years, Padilla photographed the life of Julie. The Julie Project is a collection of these photographs with some documents taken from Julie's life. Padilla intermittently narrates the photos with her experiences and conversations with Julie.

After leaving the abusive relationship she had with Jack, Julie wandered from hotel to hotel with her daughter Rachel. She had another child Tommy and lived in a shelter for some time. She eventually lost custody of both of her children when her live in boyfriend abused them. She had two more children who were taken away due to her testing positive for opiates.

In 2005 Julie was contacted by family who had been looking for her for years and she moved to Alaska. Her illness continued to progress and she had to be hospitalized.

In 2008, Julie gave birth to a fifth child, Elyssa, who she was allowed to keep custody of. She and her boyfriend Jason lived in a house with no running water or electricity.

Over the next two years, Julie's health worsened. She enrolled in hospice on Sept 7 and died Sept 27, 2010.

Through her 18 year photo documentary, Padilla wasn't just a casual observer to Julie's life. She became a close friend and spent a lot of time with her at the end of her life. Her photos are dramatic and at times gruesome and depressing. But they are a very real look at living in poverty with a life limiting illness. Below is a statement by Padilla about what motivated the Julie Project:

My initial motivation for Julie’s story was to document one woman’s struggle, to live with poverty and AIDS.

After losing custody of Rachael, Tommy, Jordan, Ryan and Jason Jr., it made me think
about them. I wondered if Julie’s children would understand the depths of her poverty, the decision of their mother to give them up for adoption.

Julie’s children are going to be adults someday. Who are they going to ask about what happened? I want to be able to tell them her story in case Julie is not alive.

I do not think Julie has much time left.

The purpose of the project is to take the disparate arguments about welfare, poverty,
family rights, AIDS, drug and sexual abuse by looking at one person’s life, Julie.

My hopes for the project is not to just tell her story for us to understand but for
Rachael, Tommy, Jordan, Ryan, Zach, and Elyssa to hear, someday.

Julie’s story matters and should make a difference to us the viewer in our understanding of the fractured world that many poor people struggle to exist in.

As a friend said, "I realize this type of story plays out constantly in the world for
many, many families. The pieces slip away or no one cares to remember the details. We see the summation of cause and effect in a homeless face on the street every day. It can be too complicated, uncomfortable and painful to ask why."

I hope you can’t stop thinking about Julie’s story, I hope it makes you feel.
I hope it makes you look at the world differently.

Thanks to Lyle for sending me this link.

4 Responses to “The Julie Project”

Drew Rosielle MD said...
March 1, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Amber (&Lyle) thanks for sharing this. I have been looking through these all evening.
Her hospice-era photos are amazing. And, not to be too fancy about this, some of them almost transgressive of the norms of what is 'appropriate' but are godhonest truthful about so many of our patients' (& their families') lived experiences. All of ours I guess.

I'm talking about the photos of her toddler next to her in bed, poking her face, trying to get her to wake up. Or her topless. Or he one of her a few days before she died, standing, hugging her boyfriend, naked except for what has to be a large dressing for a large decub. For all the documentary images I've seen looking at EOL care - these are some of the starkest, and least sanitized of any of them.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 1, 2011 at 9:00 PM

Drew, I agree with your insight on the starkness and raw nature of the photos. It is interesting that even with the attention of the photographer, that Julie continued to let her document her life despite multiple difficult potentially embarrassing setbacks.

Interesting comments on Metafilter that range form discussing this as exploitation to just single word expletives as a synopsis of what was observed. And a very poignant comment:


I'm not sure I'll ever get over this story. posted by gusandrews at 12:39 PM on February 2

Also noted that the photographer won the Smith Memorial Fund in 2010.


Holly Yang, MD said...
March 4, 2011 at 1:21 AM

Thanks for the comments guys, and for the post Amber. These are truly amazing and sometimes quite disturbing pictures and captions. Listening to the audio recording of Julie's son saying goodbye to her as she was dying, was truly uncomfortable and heart-wrenching. The total collection of images, captions, notes, and audio is extremely powerful. While I'm sure some criticized this work, its unapologetic honesty exposes the plight of those dying in poverty for all to see, and yet allows us to see Julie as a part of our shared, imperfect, and full humanity.


Holly Yang, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Thanks for the comments guys, and for the post Amber. These are truly amazing and sometimes quite disturbing pictures and captions. Listening to the audio recording of Julie's son saying goodbye to her as she was dying, was truly uncomfortable and heart-wrenching. The total collection of images, captions, notes, and audio is extremely powerful. While I'm sure some criticized this work, its unapologetic honesty exposes the plight of those dying in poverty for all to see, and yet allows us to see Julie as a part of our shared, imperfect, and full humanity.