This Is What Photography Looks Like on Drugs

Sarah Schoenfield’s experience as a bartender put her on the path to giving a “face” to illegal drugs

“I call it painting with drugs,” jokes artist Sarah Schoenfeld about her photo series, All You Can Feel. (Cocaine on photo negative, analogue enlarged) Sarah Schoenfeld
Schoenfeld’s photos were inspired by working at Berghain, a drug-fueled German nightclub. (Crystal meth on photo negative, analogue enlarged) Sarah Schoenfeld
Speed on photo negative, analogue enlarged. Sarah Schoenfeld
Schoenfeld dissolved drugs in solutions and dripped them onto exposed photo negatives. (Mephedrone on photo negative, analogue enlarged) Sarah Schoenfeld
Ketamine, a drug often seen at Berghain, is legal in Germany and is also used to treat depression. (Ketamine on photo negative, analogue enlarged) Sarah Schoenfeld

For Four years, Berlin photographer Sarah Schoenfeld tended bar at Berghain, a famously decadent nightclub where customers indulged in cocaine, ecstasy and speed. “Every night,” Schoenfeld says, “somehow you don’t see the drugs, but you see the people on them.” Inspired by her experiences, the artist came up with a novel project: She dissolved various drugs in a bath of alcohol or water, and dripped the liquids onto separate, already exposed photo negatives. The chemical reactions formed fantastic shapes and colors, which Schoenfeld enlarged and photographed for her new book, All You Can Feel.

The project “gave a face” to the drugs, she says, creating a visual representation to match the mental states the drugs induced. When she showed the image of speed, with its sharp white spikes and hectic fringe, to people who had taken the drug, they identified with the way it looked. During an impromptu experiment at a rehab clinic, users asked to select their favorite picture always chose the drug that had landed them there. “Somehow,” she says, “people read it as truth.”

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