Zach Zerr Photography


Beautifully Depraved Denver

The sun reflects golden rays off of the Capitol dome as a deep blue backdrops the Denver skyline. Amidst the golden rays junkies shoot up as the birds sing, more caps are sold to those in need, and the faces of those living lives beyond the confines of the streets brush busily by without a second thought. The smudge of despair stretched out across capitol hill goes largely overlooked, especially on beautiful days such as these.

People pass nervously as some of the junkies begin to nod off just before noon. Draped across the benches like laundry out to dry in the yard, soaking up the sun rays that creep through layers of clothing, displaced travelers bask in the vagrant's paradise is Denver. Dealers making their rounds on bikes benefit directly from a black-market economy hidden from nobody.

Cap Hill Dealer


While laws are written, and sentences distributed by judges, the underbelly of Denver sits just outside the courthouse, gut exposed, thriving in a utopic dystopia created in indifference. While nobody clamors for a totalitarian elimination of the lost souls that wander Denver, the distaste for what has developed through indifference is undeniable.

Capitol Hill is the heart of the city, a place where people from all over Colorado gather to celebrate everything from a Bronco's Superbowl title to the Women's march. A place where tourist are often drawn to see the sights and where families like to bring their children. Yet passed out, with a needle in hand, are travelers from every corner of the country scattered across the hill that is home to both the state capitol as well as the city courthouse.

While one can't help but have empathy for these afflicted souls, the feeling of trepidation and acute anxiety that overwhelms the senses as you walk through the shanty-town type campsites set up haphazardly on the size walks can't be denied. The unease felt watching the mentally ill fully catalyzed by the stimulations of the street is unshakeable. Walking the streets of Denver an old Hunter S. Thompson line comes to mind, "You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug."

It doesn't take long to realize that while Denver is by no means the South side of Chicago, it has its own dangers to be wary of. Denver is literally on the rise as the skyline continues to grow higher each day, yet tragically Denver has a drug problem to match. The problem is far from black and white so solving it comes with its own set of challenges, and while far from the root cause, the general indifference to the gross display of depravity only encourages the problem to continue.

Helping locals get back on and stay on their feet should be a goal of everyone in the Denver area, but the influx of travelers is a hard riddle to crack. As Denver opens its arms to immigrants and proudly claims itself to be a "safe city" it opens its arms to modern gypsies looking to indulge themselves and take advantage of lenient homelessness laws. Finding the balance between fixing an issue and being humane is a tough rope to walk as it is difficult to gauge what is right and fair.

Kicking already impoverished, struggling people to a further curb feels cruel, yet letting temporary drug dens pop up on the sidewalks of capitol hill seems even more ludicrous. In talking to people throughout Denver one finds that solutions are difficult to come by without crossing a line somewhere, and yet we as a city can't let things continue to run this depraved course.

As a documenter through my images and writing, I hope to expose the issue to a wider audience that in turn creates a conversation which sparks change. While I wait for that conversation to start I will continue to document. Though my intentions are honest, I myself bask in the depravity that is the streets. Which churns the gears of my mind, constantly inspiring waves of thought created by everything from the blue backdrop of the gold dome in the sun to the pile of needles in front of a brick wall. Grimy, yet beautiful, two truths of Denver I can't help but love.