myriam meloni – important things are said softly

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Myriam Meloni

Important Things Are Said Softly

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I met Leila a few months ago and the first thing I learned about her is that she was 23 years old and she was working as a prostitute.

She has two children to support. I went into her daily life and I found a strong woman, careful with her context, stubborn, generous and in fact, quite romantic.

I also witnessed her loneliness and frustration. I was wondering how she feels every time she gets undressed in front of a stranger, and what she dreams of, when I hear her humming a romantic melody.

Months went by and now I know that Leila is actually called Yesica and she is a single mother of two lively children. She strives to support her family, paying on her own skin the price of prostitution. With love and with power, she guarantees them the most important of all securities, affection, on which human chances of being happy strongly depend.

The family, as a primitive social core, has been changing and taking new shapes: the traditional concept of family has rapidly expanded to include, among others, the single-parent families, the blended families or the families made up by people of the same sex.

In “Important Things Are Said Softly,” I decided to tell the story of a mother and her two children: three individuals who live together, make reproaches, say “I love you!”, take care of each other, play, fight and grow, discovering together, day after day, what it means to be a family.

Today, about 16% of the children worldwide live in a single parent household and in 75% of the cases, they are accompanied only by the mother. Lately, in the last fifty years, families have experienced unimaginable changes, linked with the evolution of a way of thinking and also with the new forms of capitalist production as well as a new distribution of roles between men and women. However, the social imaginary keeps clinging to the classic family type, leaving the door open to the stigmatization of those who live in a different reality.

In these times of change, it is crucial to understand that the family is an active element that never remains stationary. It moves from one form to another as the society evolves.

The characteristics it takes on are endless…



Myriam Meloni (b.1980) is an Italian documentary photographer based in Argentina. She is a Law in penitentiary law from the University of Bologna. In 2004 she moved to Barcelona where she alternated her job as a criminologist at the “Modelo” jail, with her work as photographer in several Spanish magazines.

In 2010 she was nominated for the Joop Swart Mastarclass, and selected to participate at Transatlantica Photoespaña.
Her work has been exhibited in Italy, Spain, Poland, Argentina, Peru and Brazil and has been featured in many international magazines.
 She is currently combining her freelance career, working for newspapers and NGOs, with her personal projects.


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Myriam Meloni


73 Responses to “myriam meloni – important things are said softly”

  • In our “social” world of the immortal web, photos including children can have real consequences for those children when they become adults. Parents should consider those consequences before they allow photos to be posted to the web or post them there themselves.

  • “How would the reactions change if it were produced by a male photographer?”

    Imants, good question – I would like to extend that question: How would the reactions change if the pictures were produced by a well-known and respected male photo journalist?

    What if those pictures were not taken in the “western world”, but in a poor country in Africa or Asia?

    Eva, I agree.

  • humbly,
    i think its very mean to try so hard to “fill” a young photographer’s heart with GUILT….
    (once again we are “killing the messenger”…)
    if we shoot photos in Libya we “exploit” the rebels, or the government or this or that…if we shoot in athens we “exploit” the rioters, the government the this and the that…if we shoot photos of immigrants we “destroy” their amazing future etc…
    Prostitution is NOT illegal in the FREE world…( yes its illegal in the US/Australia etc but not in the advanced communities all over europe etc ),
    but thats a religious judgement/consequence…
    UNFORTUNATELY the truth is that many women die daily , getting publicly executed (stoning to death), or poisoned or from ACID burning… from death sentences and courts all around this BACKWARDS RELIGIOUS world, because the MALE simply accused them for “cheating” and or other bullshit of this nature…
    And nobody seems to cares about it…
    i understand someone’s sensitivity about the kids etc…
    but hey YOUR/MINE new iphone/laptop/Nikon/Canon is been produced by CHILD SLAVERY AND ABUSE…

    i agree with Gordon’s sense of humor though, lets all go back to shooting sunsets flowers and soccer then, and lets make photography ILLEGAL since someone gets exposed in each and every photo…
    All war photographers should also feel guilty, right?

    Jim, hold on a second, what about when you shoot a victim of a car crash for your newspaper? shouldnt u feel guilty? arent u selling a dead folk’s photo for a dollar? arent u exploiting the victim everytime you shoot a car accident?

    Everyone here has a great point though, (kids/school/bullies etc) and i get it .
    My disagreement stands mainly on inflicting and injecting GUILT on a photographer with good intentions…
    its the GUILT FACTOR that i find disturbing in our conversation today…and that saddens me..
    guilt guilt guilt and guilt : thats what most if not all Religions/institutions DID TO OUR BRAINS…
    Been judged and found guilty , very easy to do…
    ok, love u all, but sometimes i get a little frightened by some judgments but my theory is simple..usually those judgments are made by friends that are born in “very restricted, judgmental religious communities/countries”, communities that IGNORE the fact that prostitution is the OLDEST PROFESSION …
    smiling (they are talking about elevated thought/speech while living in a country that still PROHIBITS prostitution and imprisons drug addicts)
    well no wonder the essay above freaked out a few in here….
    and thats success! Essay worked! Forced all of us to think…
    ok, break over, lets all go back to our tv watching the summer “phony”Olympics…yikes

  • to Myriam:
    right on, good job, dont stress about judgments, keep it up, dig deep and let the rest of us fine tune our WB presets for the upcoming sunset/sunrise…and dont worry if you’re not liked by “everybody”…and stay/live/work GUILT FREE!!!
    big hug

  • Panos no one is playing any guilt trip here just pointing out pitfalls etc of presenting essays of this nature, few if any here are not judging her choice of profession
    Statements broadcasting the woman’s night time movements over the net are a real worry

  • anos no one is playing any guilt trip here just pointing out pitfalls etc of presenting essays of this nature, few if any here are judging her choice of profession

  • Imants i hear you…it wasnt personal…i sometimes feel this guilt inside me…pre installed…i wasnt trying to say that im really that “free” or “uninhibited” …that would make me a lier…believe me i still struggle too with all those “moral issues” when i do my work….

  • The publication of these photos is the very least of this families worries. Superficial pearl clutching is what the comfortable do when confronted with essays such as this.

  • Panos, I find your points right on. The photographer did create a successful essay and she does not need to feel guilty about it at all. An enormous amount of work is produced on prostitutes in both journalistic and entertainment media, yet I have never seen another work of any kind go where this one does. It flies in the face of most commonly held notions about prostitutes and how they live. It is thought provoking. I do think the concerns I and others have about how having these photos out in the public might affect the children are valid, but as far as the photographer is concerned, a story materialized around her, she deemed it to be a vital story to tell and she told it and told it well. This was her chief responsibility. It will now be up to the mother to work with her children and then the three of them, collectively and individually, to determine how to deal with it.

    She did not exploit them. She told a real life story that unfolded around her. Her coverage will undoubtedly create some issues for them to deal with but in the long run dealing with thesse issues could as potentially

    prove to their benefit as to their detriment. This notion of photographers always exploiting can get so absurd until one cannot photograph the most innocuous thing – her own shadow perhaps – without someone charging exploitation.

    The photojournalists job is to tell real stories from real life and I believe this is what serious, talented, photographers strive to do – they do not set out to exploit. They set out to tell a story. This is what Myriam Meloni did. She told a story. She took the world’s “oldest profession” and told a new story about it.

  • “ok, love u all, but sometimes i get a little frightened by some judgments but my theory is simple..usually those judgments are made by friends that are born in “very restricted, judgmental religious communities/countries”, communities that IGNORE the fact that prostitution is the OLDEST PROFESSION …”

    Panos, if this woman was having sex for money in a public place with her children looking on, then the public might have some interest in the story. But this essay isn’t in the public interest. It is intensely private and effects minor children. I have no idea whether the woman involved fully comprehends the implications of her choice to be photographed with her children in this context (and, of course, the children certainly do not), but I am pretty sure the photographer does. Which is an indictment of the photographer, not the woman.

    As you must be aware from my previous posts, I’m not religious. But I’m very concerned with the ethics of what we do as photographers.

  • I don’t think anyone’s trying to fill a young photographer’s heart with guilt. We’re just asking questions. And generally speaking, it’s a good idea to fill a young photographer’s mind with questions. Particularly ethical questions. That’s why J-schools teach ethics classes.

    I say “generally speaking” because I don’t mean to imply that Ms. Meloni did not consider the ethical questions brought up by her essay. I trust she gave them serious thought and came to the conclusion that the possible good outweighed the possible bad.

    Unlike Jim, I make no judgement on this work. I’ll go a bit farther and say I’m inclined to respect the photographer’s judgement. If there’s ever a definitive answer to the question, it will only be told by time.

    Usually I can understand the reasoning behind other people’s comments, but in this case I find it totally mind boggling that anyone would argue that photographers shouldn’t consider how their work might have negative consequences to the lives of children. Sometimes we have to take risks, but risking other people’s lives is a great responsibility that requires deep thought and a solid ethical foundation.

    As Jim notes, justification for work like this, or lack of one, comes down to the question of whether the public interest outweighs the private pain. On complicated issues such as this, it’s very, very rare one will find an easy answer to that question. But one would have to be batshit sociopathic not to ask the question. Especially when it involves the lives of children.

  • Jim oh no worries… I got you! No I wasn’t referring to you or anyone ( especially in here ) as ultra religious etc.. Like I said I do get puzzled to and struggle with all those “moral issues” lets say..
    The lines are not very clear and could be accidentally crossed sometimes..
    And obviously that’s why we do this conversation here on Burn to honor different opinions .. If only things were only so simple and be just black and white or good vs bad..
    Yea when kids involved things can get tricky very tricky..
    I remember a finalist here on Burn couple years ago ( essay about life in Appalachia etc, which it showed drug use in front of kids etc if my memory served me well .. an unfortunate story that turned awry for both the photog and the family etc)
    I agree on this:kids involved = delicate subject it can get very very tricky

  • MW, yeah it’s harsh for me to say that anyone deliberately “injecting guilt”..
    I can retract that no problem, it’s my own guilt that I’m afraid and worry about the most..
    Guilt that been rooted inside me since I opened the bible when I was a child…

  • I found myself in this situation in the past..
    Trying to photograph my life , my older series “DARK KIDS” which i never really abandoned but
    I brought it to indefinite halt because when kids involved those “lines” of what’s right or wrong started getting very blurry …
    And I don’t care about me walking on thin ice but I can’t say the same for someone else’s kids so I had to pull handbrake and slam on brakes..

  • Panos, and yea, I too worry about unintentionally guilting the photographer and sincerely hope that isn’t happening. The work is excellent. In addition to fantastic visuals, the way the subject matter is exposed shows a lot of subtle insight and advanced storytelling skills. One should definitely consider all these angles, as I trust she has, but hopefully not be paralyzed by them.

  • Mike – While Jim’s “is an indictment of the photographer” statement and subsequent comment about ethics is indeed his truly held opinion and therefore a valid statement for him to make on this forum, I also think it one part of the intent of which could reasonably be assumed to be “to fill a young photographer’s heart with guilt.” When one labels something as “an indictment,” then he implies his belief that there is guilt behind the indictment. I would say that the charge of indictment would extend beyond the photographer to the medium that chose to be the vehicle to present these photos to the public.

    Again, I deo believe Jim is being honest and sincere and cannot be faulted for that, though I personally feel his viewpoint to be a bit overboard. It is a good exercise for Miriam Meloni, however, as shen is an artist who produces provocative work bound to be criticized ever more severely the further it’s reach is extended into the public eye. From what I see here, I believe she will deal with it all just fine. How the children deal with it – that’s why I would like to see a report from one or both of them in about 20 years. It could easily take that long for it to all shake out enough for them to decide if the experience was overall positive or negative; if it hurt them or strengthened them; if it caused them to fill more alienated or more closely bound together to their mother and/or each other.

    Now, I think I must bow out of this conversation. I am spending too much of my very limited energy and endurance writing comments here. I need to spend my energy and endurance on other tasks, if I am ever again to accomplish anything. For now, I must take another nap.

  • that’s why I would like to see a report from one or both of them in about 20 …………………….. a bit of a silly statement it is like ……………… work in this factory and I would like to see the report in 20 years time if you have cancer because of your exposure

  • Just to be clear, I wasn’t implying that anyone here is sociopathically indifferent to the plight of children. I was just using a straw man argument to emphasize my point. For the most part, we’re all reasonable people who hold similar world views but have reasonable disagreements around the edges, as is quite normal for people who think.

    And Bill, by all means, take a nap. I, too, am spending too much energy on this discussion when I have more important things I could be doing. But this isn’t the worst of it. For example, I saw on some magazine site that the staff all took pictures of their desks. As I had just cleaned mine the day before, I felt I simply had to take take the picture for posterity.

  • The longer the comments go on, the more people retreat from the idea of making judgments or, worse, having a moral sense of right and wrong. It’s disturbing to me and strikes me as cowardly. Morality, and religious morality, may sometimes be all about fear and control. But an absence of moral judgement does not lead to courage and freedom. There are truths in between the lines. At the end of the day, if you take photographs and don’t expect people to judge them, and be judged by them, then why do it?

    I was profoundly moved by the essay. It makes this families situation very real. It’s haunting and well told. I think #4 is a brilliant shot in a way, no extra drama needed. The shots of the children fill me with concern for them. We don’t need a live shot with a customer, and thankfully this photographer didn’t go there (in this essay anyway).

    But the early comments by Jim Powers and Imants really hit home. Is a powerful, moving essay justification for putting a young woman and her kids at risk? Some would say, yes, if I “feel it’s right” then I can do anything I want. I work with vulnerable children, and these questions create real tension for me. I’m in a developing country, where photographers can do anything they want seemingly without permission — this is very tempting as one who is moved by compelling stories and images. I often feel a story needs to be told, but I think I’ve been fortunate to have other people around who strongly speak up for the CHILDREN’S rights and THEIR lives, reminding me that my choices have consequences.

  • I have a question? If a single parent mother is living in a women’s refuge with the children, the children are in day care supplied by the government while during the day, the mother is conducting sex work from that refuge , would there be consequences in ‘family law court Sydney Australia’ ?

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