September 20, 2023
Photography by Andrée Thorpe
Introduction by Melanie Meggs
Andrée Thorpe is a passionate visual storyteller and landscape photographer who has worked closely with renowned photographers and co-taught workshops worldwide. Her eye for drama and finesse has been recognized by the photography industry, having won the prestigious PDN award for World in Focus in 2012. With her own business focused on teaching, Andrée continues to inspire her students to capture the unique moments of the world around them.
One of her most powerful projects, ‘Jesse’, is an example of traditional documentary blended with a fine art approach. The project chronicles the 178 days spent with Jesse, a sheep farmer in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who is also a heroin addict on a methadone program. Through the series, Andrée is able to share the struggles of Jesse’s journey through addiction and his newfound hope for a healthier life. With Andrée’s dedication to document the resilience of Jesse’s story, she has created an inspirational masterpiece that will leave a lasting impression on all who view it.
Andrée hopes that “Jesse’s story becomes a timeless testament of an unconventional and successful fighter”. Andrée invites us to reflect on the inspiring journey of this brave individual.
“Jesse Archibald is a farmer at Lemoine Point Farm; he is also a heroin addict and a methadone user. But addiction doesn’t define Jesse—his story is one of entrepreneurship, creativity, and a strong desire to live a healthier life.
Jesse has used almost every drug. After being in a methadone program for more than ten years, he has now reduced his monthly usage by more than half. With this reduction comes withdrawal symptoms: anxiety, migraines, and physical pain. Everyday involves willpower. He sees no doctors other than for his weekly urine testing—he sees no therapists, no psychiatrists.
Instead, Jesse’s therapy comes from working on the farm and being a caretaker. He now raises chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep with an ethic of maintaining biodiversity and respecting the land. The farm gives him peace and a new focus: The animals are his protectors. Nature calms him down.
Jesse’s house is a place of chaos; there is a continuous process of recycling and upcycling everything on the farm. What looks like garbage to most of us has a potential future life with Jesse.
When you think about it, this chaos is tied to rebirth. Jesse’s story is one of a daily push and pull, of the continuous cycle of life and death.
His words: “I want to live.””
In this interview for The Pictorial List, we are grateful to have the opportunity to ask Andrée more about the connections she has made through her photography and to elaborate on some questions we have, giving us a better understanding of how we can support her meaningful projects.
“In 2017, I met Jesse, the sheep farmer. I was simply told by one farmer during my first project ‘Fields of Hope’; you must meet Jesse with no comment about his drug addiction. And I did! I will never forget our first meeting. His self-introduction was, “I am a junky with 6 teeth.”
In 2020, during the pandemic, I couldn't continue to work with the local farmers for maybe ‘Fields of Hope, Part 2’. Covid restrictions wouldn't allow me to continue to work with them. However, Jesse worked alone on the farm, and we created our own bubble! Jesse was my “new project”; heroin addict on a methadone program working on a sheep farm. Under Cig Harvey's mentorship, I played with traditional documentary, visual storytelling, and a touch of fine art photography, using metaphors to show his story in a somewhat organized way with a touch of chaos, just like Jesse's life. I did a lot of research about how farming is helping those suffering from addiction. In Europe and the United States, we can find many rehab farms and their success ratio is quite high. So, I knew I was telling an important story.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH ANDRÉE THORPE
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Andrée, thank you for your time answering our questions. Please tell our readers a little about yourself, where you are from, and how that has made who you are today.
ANDRÉE THORPE: I was born in Chicago and moved to Canada with my mother when I was 4 months old. I was mostly raised by my grandparents. I grew up in the countryside north of Montréal and at age 19, I moved to the big city to find work. After a couple of jobs in the manufacturing sector, I found my career path in the commercial/industrial insurance industry in 1982. While working during the day, for over 10 years on many nights, I completed my financial/ business management and insurance university degrees. I met my husband and we moved to Calgary in 1994, then in 2000, we moved again as I was given a major promotion in Toronto to be the Underwriting Manager for Global Risk Management Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Canada. After September 9, 2001, many opportunities were created in Bermuda to be part of new insurance company start-ups. So, we jumped at the opportunity of a lifetime. We both worked in the new start-ups and lived in Bermuda until 2013. I had a successful career in the insurance industry and was lucky enough to retire at age 50.
A year before I decided to retire, I attended a National Geographic photography weekend workshop which was led by Raul Touzon in Miami. From there, a life-changing experience. I knew, right then, photography was going to be my new way of life. I am fortunate my husband was truly supportive of my newfound passion. His words, “I don't want you to die with regrets by not living your dreams…go for it.” Nicest gift one can receive.
In 2013, we returned to Canada and moved to the Thousand Islands, Ontario. By then, I was traveling a lot with Raul Touzon. I was assisting and teaching with Raul at different workshops around the world. I photographed in the Arctic, Antarctic, South Georgia, Greenland, Seychelles Madagascar, Cuba, Turkey, Bolivia, and many other European countries.
I wanted to spend more time with my husband, and I needed something to photograph closer to home. I also wanted to bring my skills as a visual storytelling/documentary photographer to a higher level without having to travel all over the place. But what to photograph around where I live? Raul suggested; “farms, so many around you”. For 5 years, Raul mentored me on my first project, ‘Fields of Hope’.
TPL: Did you immediately know that you wanted to pursue documentary photography?
ANDRÉE: From 2010 to 2016, I took several photography workshops with Raul Touzon, Maggie Steber, Cig Harvey, Ernesto Bazan, Alex, and Rebecca Webb. I first learned landscape photography with Raul and it was my focus. Then, I ventured into documentary and visual storytelling in 2014. I then photographed Easter in Antigua Guatemala, the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, and Easter in Sicily just to name some events I photographed to develop my skills as a documentary/visual storytelling photographer.
In 2014, I knocked on the Dowling family farm's door. They let me in! Right then, I bought a pair of rubber boots, and it changed my life again. From there, I worked with many other farms in the region. I learned about farm life, our food supply, and oh man, hard work. I spent 5 years photographing and documenting local farms in the Thousand Islands. I absolutely loved it. It was hard and challenging.
During my research about the world of farming, I stumbled on this quote that got me truly inspired:
“My grandfather used to say that in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher, but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” – Brenda Schoepp
In 2019, I published my first book, Fields of Hope. This book is a collection of images that celebrates farmers and their way of life. The goal was to create a sequence of images in unity to praise and honor their craft and to remind the world that what they do is extremely valuable and essential to our basic survival.
From there, I knew I was creating a valuable project. The people featured in this book (including Jesse) are among many farmers in the Thousand Islands region of Ontario, Canada, who focus on changing the way our food is produced. They work to create a local food system that is accessible to all—a food structure that is economically, socially, and ethically better. They don't measure their wealth in dollars. They want to support food justice and promote sustainability; it is just the right thing to do. They would say that when we unite the community with good food, our souls become rich. I chose to photograph mundane moments in a different light: I decided to have an affair with farm life and show my audience a story of hope and these farmers’ commitment to the land.
Fields of Hope sold out.
TPL: You spent 178 days with Jesse on the farm. Describe what your visits were like to the farm? Was it continual extended stays or were you able to come and go? Describe what a typical day was with Jesse.
ANDRÉE: At the time, I lived only 20 minutes away from the farm. So, I was able to come and go every day. Sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes a full day. It all depended on what was going on. Pretty much every day, I helped him with his chores while offering my friendship and presence during some of the hardest moments of his life. Chaos, anxiety, withdrawals, and migraines were common occurrences. I became his confidant, a trusted friend.
A typical day with Jesse: I would pick up a large “French Vanilla drink” at Tim Hortons on my way to the farm along with a large steep tea for myself. Always very early. Most of the time, Jesse was already tackling the chores that needed to be done, feeding the animals, moving fences, moving the chicken coop and the sheep. Then time for a break, we enjoyed our drink of choice from Tim's. Jesse would light a cigarette and we would talk about world events and farming, and when the mood was right, we would talk about his addiction, struggles, dreams, wants, and so on. Then back to work. I had his full trust, so while he was back in the barn, or doing other work around the farm, many times I would stay in his house and explore/photograph his home. His home was full of surprises, and it kept changing (stuff moving around or new stuff coming in) all the time, creating new stories for me to capture. One day, he harvested mushrooms, ducks in the incubator were poking the shell and born, Legos everywhere in boxes, piles of books, magazines, marijuana plants, you name it, stuff all around. Even outside, around the farm, it was the same. In Jesse's world, pretty much everything was recycled or upcycled. One time, he built a chicken coop from stuff/material laying around his house and the barn and it was superb. Many days, I would follow Jesse doing his chores and capture moments while he was working.
Jesse's story is one of day-to-day struggles while using methadone. His lifestyle is out of the ordinary and often misunderstood. Once you enter Jesse's world you realize his story is one of entrepreneurship, creativity, and a strong desire to live a healthier life.
Jesse is much more than the subject of this project. Working together created an unconditional friendship. Living and experiencing Jesse's life was essential to this story. It needed to capture strong images and moments to weave a cohesive visual narrative. Searching for light, and colors, creating small stories with emotion was paramount in presenting Jesse's daily existence. I used a wide-angle lens on most images to transmit intimacy and interaction. I was there, I was part of the action, and I felt what he was feeling. Creating respectful images while staying committed to the truth and his story was essential.
Every day I searched for strong independent moments that were rich and meaningful. Using a fine art approach to achieve a more aesthetic look beyond the obvious visual method was my primary goal. Mundane moments and objects became extraordinary within the context of the story.
TPL: Because so much work and time goes into your photographs to convey so much emotion, what do you want your audience to “take away” from this project?
ANDRÉE: Substance abuse is on the rise worldwide and Canada is not immune. Recent reports state that annually 47,000 Canadian deaths are linked to this cause. I chose to record a small part of this problem by visually documenting the daily life of Jesse. While being a prisoner of addiction, Jesse has found a safe way of living his life and I hope that Jesse's story becomes a timeless testament of an unconventional and successful fighter.
Jesse was never one of these street-level addicts. He is a very functional addict. He is not the only one out there. It is part of the reason why Jesse was interested in this further project with me. With this project, we wanted to share with people that there are many faces of addiction and that when people think of a heroin addict, their first thought isn't just thinking only of those addicts who are bent over at the waist staring at their shoes.
Jesse would say that some of his interpersonal relationships were not what they could have been, but he got up and went to work every day and paid his bills. What we can learn through the photos and the text in this book is that it wasn't just the methadone that is helping him, but through this process and the act of farming, it is helping him as well with his mental health. “The daily practice of getting out and caring for life outside of your own brings you out of your own world and you start really sort of viewing ‘the everything’ with a slightly larger empathetic view.”
There is a huge stigma around heroin addiction in general and it is not that I'm trying to glorify drug addiction in any shape or form. What I wanted to bring out is that there are people like Jesse, and there are many of them and we don't necessarily know about them. So, what if there were other options meaning getting off methadone, learning about the human side of it, humanizing somebody like Jesse?
Many times, when I talked about Jesse, many said: “Why would you want to hang out with somebody like him.” I guess the point is that there are many functional addicts you may be interacting with, and you do not know it. It is important that people really see that there is another side to the coin than what we are seeing in the national press these days. To me, working with Jesse was helping me to understand this world and yet, I know very well, what I learned is just a tiny bit of this world. I never worked on a street drug addict project and that, on its own, is a whole different story. Of course, I know parents are going through hell. I spent countless hours reading stories about parents dealing with their child's addiction or death from drugs. So, every side of addiction is complex, multi-faceted, and hard as hell to live and understand.
Farm rehabs are already out there. Shifting the focus, learning new skills, connecting with the land and nature, and building a sense of purpose help people who suffer from addiction. So, let's make it more accessible.
TPL: What have you taken away from this project? What have you learned?
ANDRÉE: So much! Compassion for someone who is trying very hard. Even though sometimes when it comes to addiction, it is so hard to see that people can have redeeming qualities that deserve compassion and understanding when it comes to their addiction; and although they struggle, some of them are looking for help in any way to get their life back. There is a huge stigma around addiction, and I get why. It is true, when it comes to addiction, even when you tend that hand, there are relapses, relapses, and more relapses. But what about Jesse? He didn't relapse in 15 years, using methadone for survival all along. Jesse's story is just a tiny bit of this entire world of addiction.
There isn't a lot of help out there. Yes, there are in many ways, but there isn't. Rehab is very expensive, yes, a clean drug supply in some parts of Canada, clean needles, and methadone but it doesn't help in the long term. What about mental health, after rehab…? All of this doesn't give them their life back. It is all short-term. We need to look at other models out there, like Portugal for example. Not perfect, but certainly better than what we have in Canada right now. We are so caught up with the criminalization of drug use, we forget about the why's, when's, what for's… in the first place.
I have been a passionate and relentless learner never accepting the word failure as part of my vocabulary.
TPL: What were Jesse’s reactions to the whole experience? Describe his emotions when he saw the finished project.
ANDRÉE: PRIDE! All around. Jesse is not much of an emotional guy, but I could tell how happy and proud he was. I know the fact that his story is out there for the world to see is making a huge difference in his life.
I know working with me on this project gave him emotional support, something different to focus on these 178 days, more importantly, I believe he values our friendship.
TPL: So far in your photography career, apart from the ones you have spoken about previously, what are some successes, and what are some learning curves, or advice you can share that was a valuable lesson you have learned?
ANDRÉE: Photography wasn't obvious to me. I worked with numbers, statistics, legal documents, risk management, and spreadsheets for 30 years. I had to make this big shift in my brain. Going from left to right was a challenge. All I knew was after that photography workshop in Miami with National Geographic Photographer Raul Touzon, that is all I wanted to do.
I have been a passionate and relentless learner never accepting the word failure as part of my vocabulary. I also have put myself through some physical and emotional pain to become a respected photographer. It was hard and I never gave up.
I have this long collaboration of creativity, learning, and respect with Raul Touzon. It has been more than thirteen years of working together and photographing the most remote regions of our planet. Working with Raul has never been easy, even to this day. He has and continues to challenge me over and over. I cried, kicked, and pushed! I got over it and learned a lot.
Cig Harvey's mentorship on Jesse's project was a huge turning point for me. This is when I found my voice and my own vision.
Taking workshops from masters such as Maggie Steber, Ernesto Bazan, and Alex & Rebecca Webb helped me develop my documentary and visual storytelling skills. Shooting the images with your own creative process is one thing, selecting and sequencing them is the challenge.
The best advice I can give is don't be afraid of truthful/honest/constructive feedback. While shooting I constantly have at the back of my mind:
• Follow Raul’s mantra: “The four pillars of an outstanding image are subject, moment, light, and place all of them in perfect harmony following the rules of composition”.
• Cig: “Follow your gut, color, light, metaphors, look content, form, get the unseen seen...”
• Ernesto: “Go beyond the obvious…”
• Maggie: “Follow your truth, connect with people…”
TPL: What projects do you have planned for the future?
ANDRÉE: For now, I am taking a break from visual storytelling projects other than teaching. Self-publishing JESSE is a lot of work. You must do all the work yourself and knock on doors. It is life consuming. I still have 200 copies to sell!
I enjoy landscape and wildlife photography. It is restorative for me. I am going to Greenland in September, South Georgia in October, and Yellowstone in February. So maybe soon I might work on some books around these places/themes. I am actively shooting, and I know that down the road I will find another subject that will be so relevant to me that a major project will emerge. This process is organic, and you cannot force it, but it is essential.
During the pandemic, I learned how to print and bookbinding. I enjoy the creativity process that goes on. So, I plan to bring my past work into a new light.
TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
ANDRÉE: Raul Touzon, Cig Harvey, Ernesto Bazan, and Maggie Steber are truly my favorite artists. Each of them has a very different creative style and approach to the art of photography, although they have the three “P’s” in common PASSION, PATIENCE, and PERSEVERANCE”. I consider them to be masters in the art of communicating powerful stories through their images while generating a myriad of emotions in their viewers. I took several photography workshops with them for good reasons. All of them had a very positive impact on my photography.
I follow a wide range of photographers, from street photographers to wildlife.
TPL: What’s in your camera bag? Is your equipment an integral part of your practice? Is there something on your Wishlist?
ANDRÉE: I now work with Sony Alpha A7R V. Sony lenses are 16-35mm, 24-105mm, 100-400mm, and 200-600mm.
When I work on visual storytelling projects, my lens of choice is 24-105mm. I can be very nimble with this lens and act quickly. It allows me to have intimacy with my subject while giving me a wide range of creativity when I need to without changing the lens.
No wish lists. I am very happy with what I have.
TPL: And, when Andrée is not out photographing, what is she doing or would like to be doing?
ANDRÉE: I love to spend time with my husband and friends. My new favorite hobby now is printing and bookbinding. Endless creativity, the sky's the limit. I find a lot of peace while bookbinding.
Andrée Thorpe has allowed us a glimpse into Jesse's life, providing us with an inspiring reminder of the power of resilience and fortitude. Through her important photography, she has opened our eyes to a world of transformation, courage and hope. We invite you to experience more of Andrée's work by viewing her portfolio here on the website, visiting her website and buying her books. We look forward to seeing what other stories she will continue to tell in the future.