ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
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.
73 thoughts on “Myriam Meloni – Important Things Are Said Softly”
Some really nice images throughout this essay, especially the images of Leila’s two little kids. There’s nothing like a woman photographer to gain that extra little trust needed to get that close. Wishing as usual the essay was slightly longer, just as I was starting to really feel things it all came to a sudden end.
Maybe times are changing, I’ve got two of my best friends and my brother in law who are all single parent fathers. Then I’ve got my sons at school and now they are the odd ones in class, most of the other kids parents are separated or divorced. However I do wonder as I stop to think about it perhaps things aren’t so different at least for me as I also was brought up in a single parent household. Perhaps it’s just that these days at last don’t give a shit what the neighbors think.
It seems as if there are a few stories within this essay…
As a single mom, I know that story well..
and it is not for the faint of heart..
Like Paul, I was starting to feel things when it ended..
especially with the last 2 photos,
those 2 images told me a story……
beautiful portraits of her children…
she is lucky to have those….
Many a time it’s the kids who “save” a single parent from all the hardships being alone entail. I hope these two little kids somehow inspire her mum to pull out of that awful world Leila endures.
Exploiting the exploited.
“Dignity” is one word that comes to my mind looking at this essay.. thank you, Myriam and, most of all, Yesica.
August 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm
“Dignity” is one word that comes to my mind looking at this essay.. thank you, Myriam and, most of all, Yesica.
Eva thank you…i absolutely agree with your statement….nothing to add except CONGRATULATIONS!
Number 9 is quite nice. Cant really see the point of any of the others. And I certainly cant see the point of putting this womans occupation into the public domain alongside pictures of her children.
Who does that serve exactly?
“Exploiting the exploited.”
In a country like Australia this would lead to a visit from then Child Protection Authorities both the mother and photographer would have a few questions to answer. I am sure that Australia does not stand alone in this.
I don’t see, why Child Protection Autorities should visit and ask questions. I have seen many homes like that, with single parents and even with married parents. There are times, there are moments when live becomes overwhelming. The profession adds a layer to the phantasy, but finally has nothing to do with it.
It is, however, important that the parent loves their children. This is visible in the pictures.
Even more, it is visible how much the children care for their mother.
This time I missed captions, but on the other side, it left room to create a description of my own.
Well done, and Eva nailed it: Dignity.
Thank you very much.
Thomas but the images are not usually plastered over the net. To them it is not about whether love is visible in the images. I personally would not place myself in the photographers position.
Exploiting the exploited, Jim? Get in line. And you might as well drop your pants and bend over while you wait.
My biggest worry is that the kids’ classmates will find those photos. Just imagine the pain they would suffer. That and the little girl playing in the refrigerator. Horrible way to die. Hopefully the photographer wasn’t practicing journalistic detachment and at least tried to educate the family in that matter.
Well-realized pics of the kids though. Five is the classic Gene Smith shot vibe. Two is just plain fucking weird in context.
Michael, there is simply no good reason to expose a 23 year old prostitute and her minor children in such a public way. That the woman would consent to such exposure at the very least calls her judgement into question. That the photographer would include the children is, IMHO, inexcusable.
I don’t believe every photo essay of the exploited and under privileged should be out to find a solution or simply save them. What about a chance to simply record visually who Leila and her kids were, so perhaps in maybe three years, who knows eight years or what the hell twenty years time someone comes along with somehow more drive than Miriam and is inspired by the essay to really do something to change all the Leila’s and their kids in the world.
Or perhaps I’m wrong and maybe no one should attempt to work on an essay of the exploited unless they pull all the stops and really make a difference not only in their personal portfolio but also in their subjects life. It does seem somehow every documentary photographer does go through at some point a “I must save the world” syndrome with their images. A bit like every heavy metal or rock song has to and always has a guitar solo, even though it’s a crappy or highly uninspired guitar solo – the song must have one.
Jim, I’m not saying I disagree with your premise. But railing at photographers documenting the lives of the poor and downtrodden is akin to tilting at windmills. And on rare occasions, some good comes of it.
I was in a terribly cynical mood when I wrote that comment. Just finished reading about a billionaire who had purchased three islands and apparently had them terraformed to spell out his initials. He had written an op-ed in the Washington Post about how it was okay for the super wealthy to do unethical things as long as it helps further excellence (okay, I’m paraphrasing wildly, but that was the gist, imo). Turns out he had gotten a basic and easily researched fact wrong that totally destroyed his argument. For too many billionaires, things like excellence, fact checking and accountability are for the Leila’s of the world. For the thee’s and not the mee’s. More and more it’s approaching near impossible to photograph someone who’s not being exploited.
I find some of the comments quite judgmental..
Dears all, I found very interesting all the viewpoints expressed here.
When I decided to work on the history of Yesica, I went into a complex universe made of many contradictions, as often happens in life.
Gradually, I felt that prostitution was only a part of their reality, and the important thing was that despite all (economic difficulties, instability in the neighborhood where they lived, and the absence of a father) there was between them a great union, protection and love.
If the Child Protection Authorities will knocking one day at her door, I would like to think that would be to propose a better solution and some support, not to judge what she does with her image.
When one day I spoke with Yesica of the possibility that her children saw these pictures, she said “they will have no doubt that everything I did was for their sakes” And I understand many things.
And of course … the fridge was broken and disconnected!
is being a prostitute a dirty little secret?
should it be?
Yesica is taking care of her children..
providing for them….
I suppose that is why I saw a few stories in this essay….
but ultimately its about a woman doing what she needs to do to care for her children…
why is prostitution, if a woman choses that profession, dirty and shameful?!?!?
The prostitutes I have met, have been smart, business savvy, and know EXACTLY what they are doing….
I do feel however, that mixing her profession with her family life is tricky…
and perhaps her life as a prostitute is a completely different story…..
Exploitive?, good grief! (to quote Jim from a past post.) People seem to shout “exploitation” every time there are photographs of any downtrodden person. I guess we should all put our cameras away and just take them out to record birthdays, Christmas, and sunsets.
This is tender, human, and sensitive. Bravo Myriam!
What I see is a slice of life I would not have imagined from a woman whose indispensible profession is typically demonized, glorified, vilified, pitied, despised or romanticized, often vigorously attacked in public by those who utilize it in private (ie: Eliot Spitzer) – but very seldom presented from the context of a real human being, a mother who lcves her children, and has willfully chosen this as a means of supporting them in challenging circumstance.
In this way, Miriam Meloni has broadened my understanding of this world by giving me a glimpse of something I had neither previously seen nor contemplated.
I agree with Eva and her use of the word, “dignity.”
Yet, I also find myself feeling fear for what the children, who were not in a position to truly make an informed decision to participate in such a potentially dangerous project or not, will experience should this essay be seen by even one of their peers – a prospect that seems highly likely. As they say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, so maybe it will make them stronger – but maybe not.
I have benefited by viewing this essay. My understanding of this world has been enhanced. I believe this essay has the potential to benefit society. Does my benefit, society’s benefit, come at the cost of the children’s detriment? If so, is the benfit worth the cost? I don’t know.
As unlikely as it seems, I would like to read a follow-up report from these children in about 20 years.
Wendy. As far as I can work out the only references to ‘dirty”secret’ and ‘shameful’ have been made in your post. So, not sure where thats aimed at.
I also think that most people here are enlightened enough not to be judgemental about this as a profession of need or choice. The concern I see mentioned, and that I mentioned myself, is of putting this information into the public domain. There are possible ramifications to this and i am not convinced yet that a photo essay best serves the interests of the families, the participants, or moves the debate on in a meaningful way.
“I find some of the comments quite judgmental..” so are yours Eva and this is one of thwm
All the pearl clutching and need of a fainting couch notwithstanding, this is an intense and serious essay/story. Impressive photography.
Beautiful story. Filled with such beautiful images. I feel a great respect from the photographer to the characters of the story.
And I think this is the kind of stories we have to support, at least showcasing them, giving them different kinds of broadcasting. All the different questions that raise to all of us after seeing the pictures, not only about prostitution, but also about the composition and vulnerability of the families, and also about our role as photographers, are just some of the great number of positive consequences of looking at these intimate stories.
Agreeing very much with Frostfrog, undoubtedly this work contributes to understand one side of the world. This is a lot.
And we as photographers sometimes tend to look only for punctual problems and conflicts in the stories, underestimating all the complexity that we can explore with photography. I like very much when in these personal and intimate works a photographer explores different sides of the situation: this is a very responsible way of working. Very happy of seeing this story here.
I made those references after reading peoples comments, and having thoughts of my own. Is it shameful and dirty? Is that why I’m reacting like this? I felt uncomfortable seeing her children in relation to her profession, which surprised me.. I too, have been working with prostitutes, and like this story, they send money to their children. One common voice they all expressed to me, was that they didn’t like how they couldn’t say with confidence to the ‘public’ what they do.. Its like Myriam said, ‘a complex universe with many contradictions…’ Here in the US, legal prostitutes are independent contractors.. The ones I’ve met are smart and know how to play the game and make $$.. Its that simple.. I think thats why Leila has agreed to do this.. She is simply making money to support her family.. ** So then why does it make me feel uncomfortable??? I continue to wonder…. ** :)
As for the kids well kids are a resilient lot it is as they get older that the fragility bears its ugly head
The choices we make change us in fundamental ways. They change our world view, they change our relationship to others, changes that echo through the rest our lives. More importantly, they change the people that love us and depend on us. “My mother is a prostitute” and “my mother is an investment banker” are not just statements of fact, but signposts pointing toward my future. To be a “strong woman” (or man, for that matter) only has meaning within context.
“My mother is a prostitute” and “my mother is an investment banker,” certainly send a child a different message in places where prostitution is illegal.
These photos could potentially destroy the family. It still seems to me that the decisions by the mother and the photographer to put these photos in the public sphere were bad decisions.
I worked on a story in college about a professor who got busted for moonlighting as a pimp. The hook was that he trolled the welfare office and enticed women getting food stamps to work for him. I thought that was as clear a connection between prostitution and poverty one would ever see. I looked for research to support such a connection, even worked with the Kinsey Institute (interesting library), but could find no statistical link between prostitution and poverty. Of course there are some women who are driven to prostitution by poverty, but apparently it is not the norm. I was able to track down and interview two of the professor’s prostitutes. Basically, they told me they liked to party and it sure beat working long hours at a shitty job.
That explanation makes sense to me, and in cases like that, I am nonjudgmental. Nonjudgmental with strangers, that is. Prostitution is a case where there are other levels of negative judgements. Sure, the Jesus character in the Bible let a prostitute wash his feet. That far, I would go. But I wouldn’t, for example, want my children to become prostitutes, nor would I be comfortable with the idea of them marrying one. Is that the kind of prejudice an enlightened person should overcome? Perhaps, but it’s not gonna happen. And of course not all prostitutes are freely making their own choices. Many are abused. Many have been enslaved. Is it okay to be negatively judgmental about sex slavery?
Anyway — and here I’m talking general principles, not making a judgment on whether this particular story should have been done — the act of getting the subject’s permission doesn’t absolve a photographer from any moral responsibility for his or her editorial decisions. Ultimately, those are separate issues. How does one weigh the cost/benefits? Is the enlightenment of many worth some serious pain for a few? Perhaps, but in moral dilemmas such as these, I always think back to a line from an old song by the Waitresses: “I don’t wanna be a part of some rich kid’s learning experience.” Unfortunately, being a part of some rich kid’s learning experience sums up too much of our relationship with the poor and downtrodden in this world.
These photos could potentially destroy the family.
Right. It’s not the crushing poverty or the lack of opportunities or being pushed to the margins of society… no, it’s the photos that will destroy the family. If only she could have become an investment banker.
I’m getting the impression that some are mostly angry at the photographer for daring to show us a life we’d rather not see.
I doubt if anyone is angry at the photographer nor are they seeing something that they are not aware of. I am sure some of us live, or have lived amidst similiar situations in our own communities. Most are just pointing out possible raminifications. Maybe that is where the problem lies, a situation like the one portrayed is socially unaccepted in the so called western world but part of societies’fabric elsewhere.
This is no different to an essay where the parents are growing opium, processing it and selling due to it being their only avenue of making a living.
“nor are they seeing something that they are not aware of.”
Did not day they were not aware, said they’d prefer not to see it.
“Most are just pointing out possible raminifications.”
Yes, and that in my opinion is superficial at best.
‘strong women within context…’
….whats always left out of the equation of prostitution is the MEN. The ones that create the need and profession…
Takes 2 to tango…
so they say…..
Imants, i like your reference to growing opium…
Friend to this woman’s then teenage son, “Woah. Your mom has nice tits in that photo, man. How much does she charge?”
You don’t see a potential problem, here?
Shallow and superficial, Jim. You’re not looking deep enough.
Michael, it’s not a deep issue. It’s very simple.
How are the children cared for when mom is working? I assume she must sometimes leave at a moment’s notice. What contingencies does she have for this? Does she leave them on their own? This has no bearing on the larger question being debated, but is just factual information not addressed in text or caption I am curious about.
As an essay, I like this a lot; I like the photography and I admire Yesica for her determination to raise her kids, but [there’s always a but, isn’t there?] I have to agree with Jim. Someone is going to throw this in her kids’ faces; that’s just the way kids are. It will take a lot of strength for Yesica’s kids to look up to her when their frenemies taunt them about her way of making a living.
Thanks everyone for expressing their ideas about this work
I started this story almost a year ago. While I was involved in the life of Yesica, she and her children stopped being “photographic subjects” to become people with whom I shared evenings, long talks and many games.
I remember one night that I slept in their house: It must have been 3 am and Yesi, after receiving a call, got dressed and left for work.
While Yesi was getting dressed, I saw that her eldest daughter was awake, observing in silence the movements of her mother.
I realized that her 8 years old, not permitted her to understand completely the situation, but were enough to make her feel that this skirt so short and this sudden output in the middle of the night, meant nothing very good.
I wish to protect this young girl, but can you protect someone from his own reality?
It’s only a matter of knowing or not knowing?
Or prostitution has other consequences for a family, perhaps harder than stigmatization from others?
As a photographer, I never felt I had the power to change this reality, but I felt I had the tools to tell it in a different way. I let prostitution be part of the essay, as well as is part of their lives, but putting the focus on the gestures, moments and feelings that for excessive moralism or simple lack of knowledge, we aren’t, often, able to see.
I personally believe that in front of a difficult reality, it can be constructive to highlight the most valuable aspects of this same reality.
Frostfrong: Thank you for your interesting question. When Yesica goes to work, she takes the children to the house of her mother who lives a few meters away or asks her younger sister (who also lives very close) to come to care for them if they are already asleep.
The young woman in this essay might be one of the “lucky” few. However, statistically speaking, she likely isn’t. It is likely that she has been raped more than once by either a john or a pimp (she may be a private contractor for the moment, but the longer she stays in the business the less likely she will remain one). She has likely been beaten by either a john or a pimp. She likely was sexually abused as a child or adolescent. She will likely be unable to pull herself out of her economic situation the longer she remains a prostitute. Again, she may be one of the “lucky” few right now, but the longer she remains in the business the more likely she (and her children) will suffer these horrors. I would be surprised if her children are not already becoming aware of their situation. So, yes, saying “These photos could potentially destroy the family.” seems, to me, to miss the mark by a mile. This family has monumental issues and concerns facing them. These photos are not one of them.
(I hope I’m wrong about all of the above.)
Michael there is nothing superficial about the raminifications if shit hits the fan for some involved.
Michel can you assure the family that the photos will not have a negative impact on their lives?
People forget what tough places school yards can be let alone the playground of cyber space……….
Aren’t we judging too much, because we have a certain view on the profession?
What would we write, if her profession was to work in shifts in a glue factory?
How would we perceive this essay as a whole?
Are we projecting our value models into a world which may have different values?
Maybe the whole environment knows about her profession and is OK with it? – Her mother and sister probably know, may also other people. Maybe there are no secrets anymore…
We don’t know. We assume, the photographer did something exploitative to the family. But they lived together and probably also talked about publishing and maybe about the consequences of publishing? Do we know?
We assume the other children in school give her children a hard time. What if, their mothers are in the same profession? Probably not so unlikely.. We don’t know about their environment – we assume and judge.
The good thing is, this essay makes us think – about the family, about the situation. Does it change anything, however? The way we think? The way we perceive? What do we feel when looking at the pictures?
There are lot of questions inside me – how did it come to this situation, how does the environment look like, what are the people in this environment work?
Thomas it is a real problem schools and not just in the affluent western societies but stuff from the net finds its way into their lives with ease,remember mobiles are capable of relaying the same information but is a lot more accessible. I guess that you have all these questions understandable as you do not see directly what happens on a day to day basis and the repercussions.
Thomas maybe in this case there will be no problems, but be rest assured there are situations where this would create all sorts of grief and pain. I will conclude my say on that note
Prostitution, investment banking, I wonder which is the more honest profession.
Imants, you may be right – however I doubt that her situation will come to “light” via this essay.
Even in a huge city, the neighborhood probably knows. – School also happens in the neighborhood, i.e. the children will have hard times with or without the essay, if the neighborhood is morally different.
The essay does not give me an indication of a “secret life” or a “double identity”.
I may be wrong, and you may be right.
Thomas knowing and having the photos are very different situations …….it is how the images are used that causes problems and though it may have little effect on the wider community that small circle is pretty vulnerable and it takes very little for things to get out of hand.
Well that’s it from me…….. I am just a bit wary of the situation and the consequences of placing these type of essays in the public domain. Sure we have all sorts of war images etc
All essays have their place
ps I forgot to mention one thing How would the reactions change if it were produced by a male photographer?
Thank you for the answer, Myriam. Pretty amazing mother and grandmother; amazing sister and aunt…
Good question, Imants…
Maybe this essay and the comments can help, just maybe, in making understand our children (as parents, teachers, relatives etc.) what honesty is, and that it has little to do with the profession one has, but much more with how a person is and lives.
If I have learned one thing as a parent, then that is that kids don’t listen to what I tell them, but learn from how I act, from how I live.. acceptance of my next is not done through words, but through believing in how I act… I cannot change others, but I can change myself.. having lived through some of what the photographer writes in her statement within very very close family probably puts me in a place where acceptance is easier..
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.
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…
Should we feel GUILTY ABOUT EVERYTHING?
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
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!!!
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….
all cool Panos
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.
Very well said.
“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’ ?
Comments are closed.