A collage of some of the baggies Dan has come across (Click to enlarge)
All photos by Dan Giannopoulos.
What do you do with your leftover drug paraphernalia? Unless you're one of those ambitious stoner hoarders who insists on keeping stems for pots of weed tea you'll never brew, chances are you throw everything away. And if you're homeless—or someone who enjoys getting high around strangers, or in parks—it's likely you chuck your empty baggies on the floor or into a bush, kindly leaving them for 10-year-olds to bring into school and use as props in stories about their fictional weekend exploits.
Since January of this year, photographer Dan Giannopoulos has been taking photos of all the discarded baggies he finds throughout south-east London. He's also been jotting down their geographic coordinates with the aim of eventually mapping out all the bags he's found and working out whether any patterns emerge. I had a quick chat with Dan about his project.
A map we made out of the baggie coordinates that Dan has gathered so far (Click to enlarge)
VICE: Hey Dan. So far, what has the project taught you about Londoners' drug use?
Dan Giannopoulos: I've been working on it since about January this year, and I haven't had a chance to map everything fully yet, so at the moment it's isolated to south-east London. But I tend to find more bags in more of the working-class areas I've been to—the kind of areas that have a reputation for drug use. But then I've had bags show up in places like Blackheath, which is quite a posh area. It's quite random at the moment, but I was going to carry on working on it for a year or so and map any patterns that show up.
Is there a variation of drugs between those areas?
It tends to be more weed around the well-to-do areas.
And what about in the poorer areas? Still more weed than anything else?
There's a lot where it's quite obvious that there's powder in the bag, but I'm not able to identify what it is visually, so I've been in touch with people to find out how I go about getting the bags tested. But visually, a lot of the designs would suggest that the bags I've found were for weed.
Is the visual part of it something that interests you? The artwork on the bags itself?
Initially, I started because I would walk around my local area and see these little bags lying on the street, and to me they were like little bits of street art that not many people really noticed. So yeah, the initial visual aspect is what drew me in, then plotting the locations of the bags, considering the social aspect and seeing if there was a pattern in specific areas came later.
Why did you choose south-east in particular? Do you live round there?
Yeah, initially I wanted to start out small, so I started in my local area—the Greenwich, Lewisham area—then started working further down into the Bexley area. I've found a lot of bags in Thamesmead; I found about 15 in a 30-square feet area, in a place that was quite well hidden.
What kind of places do you tend to find bags most?
Normally around park land and bus stops and stuff. I guess places where people congregate under shelters and that sort of thing. I've also found a lot in the vicinity of elementary schools, and a few right outside the entrance of elementary schools.
What about pubs? Or do you think people are happy enough with alcohol there, so restrict their drug taking to bus stops and parks?
I have found them outside pubs, yeah. I've plotted the days that I've found bags, and it tends to be more on Saturdays when I find bags outside pubs when people have been out the night before. So it's obviously people going to the pub, then walking 30 or 45 feet off to smoke some weed and leaving their bags behind.
Have you been keeping track of wraps as well as baggies? I suppose they're not quite as easy to spot.
Yeah, they're quite hard to identify, and it's always hard to tell if what you see is actually a wrap or just a folded up piece of paper. I've seen syringes around as well, but I've left them out of this project.
I think it's one step too far for the project I'm doing at the moment. What I'm doing is collecting these bags and filing them away, then eventually building a large montage of the bags I find. I'm doing a digital version at the moment, but I'm going to use the actual bags to make a physical montage as well.
Machine Guns (L) 51.490085, 0.085395 (R) 51.491461, 0.155879
Have you noticed any distinctive bags popping up loads? Because I suppose you could work out if dealers have a monopoly on one area if all the bags you find are the same.
I have noticed that, in certain areas I go to, I'll find the same bag over and over again. There's one I found with a machine gun on it. I've found maybe 30, 35 of them, and they all tend to be located around one particular area in Thamesmead. Now, it's not often that I find bags with new designs. they all tend to have weed leaves or bulldogs on them, all stuff I've seen before. I still map them, but it would be interesting to travel further afield to see if there's anyone using different bags, if different dealers, like you said, put their stamp on an area.
Do you know any dealers in your area?
No. I mean, that whole world is something completely separate from me, so that was part of the draw as well. I'm kind of drawn to subjects that I don't necessarily understand myself, so—to me—these bags that I find are kind of just pinpoints of activity that I don't see on my day-to-day. These hidden activities.
Yeah. And do you find yourself noticing these bags way more now? Like you have a trained eye for discarded drug paraphernalia?
Yeah, I'll be out with friends and spot a bag out the corner of my eye. A lot of friends and family get quite embarrassed when I get out my pad to note down where I found it. It did become a bit of an obsession over the summer to find these bags and mark down the locations all over a map, but I've calmed down a little now.
See more of Dan's work on his website and check out his photography collective at aletheiaphotos.com.