An exhibition capturing August’s “Trail of Truth” march in black-and-white film photography is now on view at Binghamton Photo. “True B&W Photographs by Arra: Trail of Truth” opened Friday, moved from its original start date following inclement weather during last week’s First Friday Art Walk.
The “Trail of Truth,” held annually since 2015, honors people who have died from substance use disorder by involving friends and family members in a march and live performance art piece. According to Alexis Pleus, founder and executive director of Truth Pharm, the first march was planned in about two weeks as an act of protest against the county for not counting overdose deaths appropriately.
“Our message is you’re not just losing empty souls, it’s not just numbers, these are human beings who are loved, who had qualities, who had attributes,” Pleus said. “We wanted to create an event where the county couldn’t deny that people had lost their lives. We decided that because it was so beautiful, and people really appreciated it and said it was a good healing time for them, to do it each year.”
In the years since the event’s conception, Truth Pharm has ensured that photographers are present to document the annual march. This year, they were unable to have their usual photographers at “Trail of Truth,” so the organization put a call out on social media. Binghamton resident Arra Norton, 29, a street photographer who usually shoots local rallies and other community events, responded to it.
“I really wanted to see what it was about because I’d never been to it, and I wanted to capture the emotions of the event and share it,” Norton said. “I like to use my photographs to start conversations.”
The exhibition is being held at Binghamton Photo, which is part of the Bundy Museum of History and Art. Norton is a member of the Binghamton Photo darkroom and when she was asked by the Bundy Museum to exhibit her photos of the event, she collaborated with Pleus in selecting the photographs. Truth Pharm, which maintains a relationship with the Bundy Museum as a partner organization for its radio station, tabled at the opening reception.
Pleus said Norton’s photographs showed her a side of the event she often misses as an organizer.
“I love them because as the person who organizes the event and leads it, you kind of almost have to be detached when you’re at it because it’s very emotional, and just to function you almost have to divorce yourself of your own emotions and you miss a lot,” she said. “For me, it’s really beautiful to see the photographs and then I can get in touch with my own emotions about the event and the experience, and it’s powerful for me to see what other people were experiencing at the event.”
Christie Hansen, ‘19, an administrative assistant at Truth Pharm, said a photograph that depicts a megaphone and a sign reading “Stop the Stigma” was one of her favorites.
“It kind of speaks for itself in a way,” Hansen said. “I think the black-and-white photos bring out so much more emotion than if they were in color, to be honest. The contrast in feeling is represented in the contrast of color.”
Hansen said she hopes the exhibition aids Truth Pharm’s mission to inspire similar events in other cities and possibly lead to a nationwide movement.
“I’m hoping that they’ll start to understand that there are actual issues and it’s affecting everyone, and I think [Pleus] is doing a great job bringing awareness,” Hansen said.
Pleus said her own background as an artist has motivated her to include the arts in the work Truth Pharm does. She hopes the photographs serve to inform exhibition visitors.
“Having this as a part of First Friday is beautiful because we’re reaching people who would maybe never be exposed to Truth Pharm and know about our work and know about our walk,” Pleus said. “They might come to it next year, but then they’re also seeing what’s behind it, the loss of all these human lives, and they might get concerned about the issue. I feel like art reaches a broader audience and reaches people in a way that sometimes words can’t.”