Friday, October 7, 2016

Still Haunted

I am still haunted by what I saw 13 years ago at a brothel in Poi Pet Cambodia. I remember the young women sitting out front of the brothel under the pink hanging lights. They sat on little plastic stools their faces painted white, there eyes downcast, their faces blank. Many of the girls seemed drugged, most were skinny and ill looking wearing tight revealing clothing. I can see their hollow eyes staring back at me, staring, staring staring

I was in the back of the brothel sitting with the Cambodian family who ran the place. Trying to make friends, trying to learn some Khmer and milking my $5 USD can of coke for as long as I could before they kicked me out of the place. People who asked to many questions or tried to take photos were not welcome. So I was just there trying to make friends and gain access to make pictures and tell the stories that needed telling. I sat there for several hours on more than one occasion and watched those young women sitting on those plastic chairs. Every now and again one would turn around and look at me with an empty hollow expression. She (they) was so hopeless so lost. It was the ugliest place I ever made pictures in, and I have been in many ugly places making pictures (dumps, slums, drug shooting houses).

The memories of the people I saw in Poi Pet continue to haunt my thoughts. I can see their hollow eyes staring back at me, staring, staring staring. The girls I knew then are no doubt long gone from the trade, many are no doubt dead from AIDS or other things. They are probably mostly forgotten except possibly in the few pictures I did make there. To be used and forgotten like that, how terrible can life be?

I have go back, I have to go back to that awful world, those awful places and tell the stories of the young women on the plastic chairs. Their lives matter, everyone has to see their faces, their eyes, THEIR HEARTS!!! The project is one I call "Lost Innocence" I have to try to tell it. The thing is I do not want to go back, hated it there, it is dangerous and ugly and everything in between. I have to go back thou some how. I have to force myself, get my nerve back and enter those worlds again. It is all a bit frightening. Maybe I am losing my edge as I get older, becoming afraid to go to the places that need to be gotten to.

How to photograph it? I want to highlight the workers on those chairs, show their humanity. I have been thinking of doing both digital colour shots of the environment they live and work in as well as tight shallow depth of field 4x5 b/w head portraits with the Kodak Aero Ektar lens and Speed Graphic camera. Then the prints can be made LARGE AND STARK, and hopefully some gallery somewhere will care enough to show the pictures. I will do it all myself, pay for it all myself (out of my security guard money). I need no grants, no credits, no nothing. These faces that haunt my thoughts need to be seen by everyone. Maybe the photographs will get people to care more and help lead to some small amount of positive change. I have to try, regardless of my fears.
Brothel worker, Poi Pet Cambodia 2003