We know what most drugs look like—at least in material form that is. But what does their matter, their breakdown, their essence look like? German photographer Sarah Schoenfeld pursued this challenging question in All You Can Feel, a series of images of various drugs that she placed onto exposed negative film and then enlarged. Each drug manifested differently. The image depicting caffeine shows a circle with spiky, kinetic offshoots coming off its surface like a desert cactus. Melatonin, on the other hand, coated the film in a softer, milkier way—its imprint like a cloud or a big snowball. How these drugs alter the surface of the film is a fascinating visual representation of how they might also alter our own chemistry. We asked Schoenfeld more about the project.
Where did you get the idea for this project?
“I worked for many years in a nightclub, where mind-altering substances are an important part of the dance and party culture scene. I was fascinated and scared by the enormous power such substances have recreationally and as medication in the treatment of psychological diseases like schizophrenia, etc. When I got into the whole thing, I was really surprised how complex and interesting drugs are in terms of politics and philosophy. I realized that we could use a certain kind of new narrative, one to open up the dialogue about drugs, consumption, politics. I had already used photo negatives in previous works as a stage for different processes, so it just happened to come together in this work.”
How did you manage to sample the drugs you used for the photographs?
“I understand that it might be interesting for you to know, but about the practical side of this work I can’t really talk. However, I assume your imagination will tell you exactly the right stories.”
Would love to hear more about your process in photographing this project. What precautions did you take? How did you approach the making of these images?
“This is not really photography. I took a photograph of a plain background and used already developed negatives and poured the liquid substances on the sensitive surface of the photo emulsion. The interaction between the substance and the emulsion makes the picture negative—what I print out analogue in the darkroom.”