When Berlin-based artist, Sarah Schoenfeld tended bar in the city’s night clubs, she witnessed a lot of people getting high. “I could see their minds and their character changing,” she recalls. “I was scared and fascinated by how much power a substance has.”
Schoenfeld wanted people to experience that same transformation without actually doing the drugs. To do so, she worked up a process that she calls “modern alchemy:” putting liquified drops of heroin, speed, LSD, and anti-depressants onto photo negatives, magnifying them, and developing them in the dark room. The result is a series of trippy colors and shapes, produced by the chemical reaction between the negative’s emulsion and the drug. “Everybody tells me ‘Oh wow, the drugs look so similar to how they feel,'” she says.
Schoenfeld has compiled her images with essays on drug history and culture into a new book, “All You Can Feel.” The message of the compilation is one about changing perceptions. “When heroin was invented, it was medication for flu. It started legal and then after a while, it became something else,” she explains. The same thing happened with ketamine, which started as an animal tranquilizer. “Then it became a famous party drug, and now it’s used as an antidepressant,” she says.
Which means our definitions of these drugs and our moral views about them are fungible. “Side by side, you can’t immediately see the difference between the illegal and legal drugs,” Schoenfeld says, “which shows how similar they are.”