“As I travelled through America, I noticed the same pattern in many cities: in all the bad areas, I saw white women, generally young and at one time generally pretty, who were drug addicts—and I’m talking serious heroin or crack addicts. Many of them admitted they were sex workers and in many instances they looked like a shell of themselves. This struck me very deeply bringing back memories from my youth.

In all of these women, I see my own mother—ravaged by pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol and her lifestyle—so I went to these areas where they hang out and I started asking them if I could photograph them. This personal motivation is the genesis of my ongoing project Only God Can Judge Me on prostitutes and drugs. I went back again to photograph some of these women in Overtown, Miami and I interviewed them. It’s hard to imagine how much suffering and how little hope their stories contain. We ignore them but they do exist and survive at the “other end of the spectrum” as Trish says.

I want to continue this project and attract attention to them and to what drugs did to them. It’s always interesting when people say that they have trouble looking at these faces. This can happen to anyone’s loved one. Just imagine you have to look at your mother’s face.” – Bruce Gilden

Get Magnum news and updates directly to your inbox