A Very Old Hunger
Ye and Win sit and wait for a break in the ceaseless, stultifying afternoon. Akash, the Bangladeshi boy, fear frothing over now, pokes and prods at you. Wispy Uncle Cho, his countenance grey and famished, scuttles off out of sight to beg for money for food, wiggling his stumped limb to bait passers by. His flimsy front though hides not a hunger of an even more formidable kind. Heroin is back. And it’s pink. And as intoxicating for the media as it is for the Burmese junkies lolling, itching, clucking and scampering around in varying stages of withdrawal. This though is not a story of the rise of the new pink colour-dyed dope that's flooding Southeast Asia. Nor is it a story of migrants, refugees, race, poverty or crime. Nor in fact, is it a story of drugs of any sort, shape or colour. This is a story of addiction – a very old hunger. For around 10% of the population addiction is a mental obsession entwined with a physical compulsion , a neurochemical aberration, a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by the pathological pursuit of reward and/or relief by substance use or process. And as such, this is an issue of public health, though it's rarely seen as such – largely as it’s impossible for the addict to shed the reputation of being at best hedonistic or at worst a lazy, wretched, lying, thieving scumbag trawling through a mire of self-inflicted catastrophe. (Especially if caught in the cycle of poverty, and then the chances of finding recovery are very, very grim.) The stark reality is that addiction is neither pleasureful or voluntary. With each substance or process hit there is a powerful surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the pre-rational limbic brain, hijacking the brain’s system of reward-related learning that creates the motivation for one to perform actions indispensable to survival. Over time, the brain becomes reliant on a substance or process trigger to produce dopamine and so it becomes increasingly harder for the neurotransmitter to be produced by more natural, neutral, everyday stimuli - like walking, talking, task-completing or smiling. The addict then becomes dependent on a hit to just feel comfortable; no hit and no dopamine and the addict spirals into desperation: often an on- off sequence of quitting and relapsing as you become tormented at the whim of your own dysfunctional neurochemistry. You make a rational cerebral cortex decision not to use and then in an overwhelming instant this is involuntarily overridden; every cell screams in unison for the hunger to be satiated. A force stronger than that of survival courses through you in waves, pushing you to a bitter end. Cease using and you'll feel like you're about to die; continue and you will. The choice, at least initially, is always only between a living death and a certain death.
While cutting his teeth as an advertising creative in the early Noughties, DARKLE was shortlisted at Cannes Lions for his lead acting role – dressed in wig and beard as Tom Hanks’ Cast Away – in a Dentsu Tokyo spot for Zebra pens. The limelight though clearly had adverse effects. The following week DARKLE stole a camera and borrowed a tiny crew and shot his first short film in just two hours in a downtown Bangkok hotel elevator. He knew then which side of the camera he wanted to be on. A writer and film director as well as a photographer, DARKLE is most content when alone with his still camera in the wilds of Burma or China or on urban safari down the side streets of Hong Kong or Kathmandu. Stark, bleak, grave but precise and at times unnerving, DARKLE finds poignancy in the solemn; his approach treating documentary subjects – landscapes, cityscapes and portraits – as fine art. DARKLE has exhibited work in galleries in as far flung places as Beijing, Sydney, London and New York, and also closer to his adopted home – both as part of Thai Trends at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre and the inaugural PhotoBangkok festival this last year. His most recent exhibition, Liberation – a body of work shot in the Himalayas – was sponsored by authorized Leica dealer IQ Lab to showcase the new Leica Q camera.