Deep in the Heart of Exum

The photographer Exum (who goes by her last name only—hey, she lives in New York) loves to capture the depths of people’s emotions on film. Too bad, then, that the 35-year-old had to shoot mostly still lifes to accompany Pamela Colloff’s story on heroin use and abuse (see “Teenage Wasteland,” page 102). The kids involved were either in jail, in rehabilitation centers, or underage, so they couldn’t be shown; the only humans in her human interest photo essay are two undercover cops, whose identities cannot be revealed. So Exum—whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and Newsweek—photographed the miles of identical houses in Plano, where many of the troubled youngsters grew up. “I just tried to show some atmosphere of the blankness of Plano. I lived in an area like that in the suburbs of Atlanta,” she says. “Heroin is about shutting out your emotions, and here was this bland, non-emotional place.” But Exum did stir up some excitement. When she tried to take pictures in an area known for its drug busts, three men—probably drug dealers—started screaming at her to come inside the store. “I went along to humor them so I could get some pictures, but when the owner started making a phone call, I got uncomfortable and left. But I loved it because we were finally getting some action.”

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