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The Cost of Being Free

Kyla Milberger | Detroit, Michigan, United States

Justin, 24 years old, smokes a cigarette out of his bedroom window, a typical morning ritual for him. He has been an on and off again smoker since he was a teenager. In this picture I had just surprised him by coming over and waking him up. We had no concrete plans to hang out, and I think it made him happy, even feel special that someone was thinking of him and wanting to spend time with him. Justin often feels that no one is really there for him or thinking about him. He thinks he has to battle his addiction alone.

In 2017, I started a project titled The Cost of Being Free. This project is an extremely personal journey for me, as it delves into the taboo subject of drug addiction on an intimate level. My father struggled with drug addiction for many years, which would take his life. Through his death, I was able to see drug addiction clearly for the first time, and to recognize the impact it has on people’s lives such as my brother, Justin, who has also fallen prey to this disease. I am documenting Justin’s everyday battle with addiction and the community of people he is involved with. Through conversation and audio taping, I am also examining other individuals who are fighting this disease. My objective with this documentary project is to capture the deep emotional hell caused by this debilitating disease. I hope to shed light on the realities of what drug addiction looks like and the mental health issues that it causes. Additionally, I hope to humanize the addiction, de-stigmatize the disease and show the harsh actualities of what it is like to struggle with this burden.

I am a documentary photographer exploring social, cultural, and political conditions that affect people. My goal in life is to make a change in the world by bringing awareness to the important current issues that are having both negative and positive impacts on society. Storytelling is my passion in life, as well as the essential tool I use to promote social justice and awareness related to vital issues in our world. I am driven by the belief that a more diverse community overall means more strength, understanding and knowledge about one another.

We are all human, we are all one, and in our diversity, we are able to find common ground with one another. Social justice is about having the compassion to want that progression and integration of the individuals themselves. Social justice creates the opportunity for different communities to understand, recognize, and acknowledge authentic identity.


Kyla Milberger





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