London gallery Cabinet is presenting portraits from photographer Richard Kern’s “Medicated” series through March 21. Kern is known for his experimental films featuring art stars such as Henry Rollins, Lydia Lunch, and David Wojnarowicz, as well as sex- and drug-themed zines such as The Valium Addict.
A former heroin addict himself, Kern’s photos offer the opportunity to stare into the far more insidious face of contemporary prescription drug addiction. On the genesis of the project, Kern has said, “A woman working for me a few years ago told me that she was very jittery because she had taken too much Adderall. When I asked her about taking meds, she said that all of her friends took them too.” The resulting images—young women in their underwear holding up their pill bottles (Valium and Klonopin, but also Relpax, a treatment for migraines) and birth control packets against a background of their own cozily haphazard bathrooms and bedrooms—fall somewhere between scenes of confession and screen grabs from a YouTube tutorial.
Kern, whose photos trounce the judicial school of thought that insists “you’ll know [porn] when you see it,” once explained in an interview, “One of the elements of photography is, just by nature, journalistic….the model is just one element of the photograph. This ‘Medicated’ series, for example—all the junk that’s on the sink, and the way bathrooms look…it’s stuff I think is going to look good in 20 years. That’s what I’m aiming for, stuff you’ll look back on and think, ‘Oh yeah, I remember when it was like this.’”
Below, more images from the series.