Story - NOMINEE: Sandra Hoyn
The Longing of the Others
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A photo documentary about the microcosm brothel in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries where prostitution is legal. The Kandapara brothel in Tangail is the oldest and second largest one, it has existed for some 200 years. It has been demolished on July 12th 2014 by a group of armed men, backed by the local government. It has been established again with the help of local NGOs. Here live and work more than 700 sex workers with their children and their madams.
Many of the women were born in the brothel, are sold by family members or have fled their husbands and secure in this way their livelihood. Officially, they must be 18 years old, but most of them are underage. Many of them take steroids like Oradexon, a drug used by farmers to fatten livestock, to look older and healthier. The women have sex with up to 10 men every day. They earn between 1000 - 2000 Taka ($12 - 25) daily.
Their customers are police men, politics, farmers, fishermen, factory workers, groups of teenage boys. Some are looking just for sex, but some also for love and company of a woman.
The brothel district is surrounded by a two meter wall. In the narrow streets there are dealers, food stalls, tee shops, hairdressers and street vendors. The brothel is a place with its own rules and hierarchies of power which are often completely different from the mainstream society. Inside the brothels the women are weak but also powerful. There is deepest human misery, but also dreams and hope. They can do things there they can´t do outside. Although prostitution is legal in Bangladesh since 2000, the women are socially stigmatized and tolerated only in these brothel areas.
I spent four weeks from January to February 2016 in the brothel. At the beginning it was very difficult to get access to the women and customers. The first week I didn´t took photographs, just walked around, drank tea and talked with them. Taking intimate photographs was possible after they trusted me. Usually the girls have been shy at the beginning and were giggling, but after some minutes they behaved like normal. Some customers didn´t want to be on the photographs, especially these ones with a rich family behind. But other customers, mostly the poor guys, factory workers etc. who had nothing to loose, didn´t care at all about it.
On the one hand these women in the brothel are needed so much, but on the other hand they are not treated like normal citizens, they have no freedom of movement. Sex workers are a reality that society has to accept. Instead of ignore and stigmatize them, the existence of sex workers in society should be acknowledged. The environment should be improved. Recognizing the existence of sex workers is the first step to ensure that they have a right to live a normal life as any other human beeing.
Sandra Hoyn (b. 1976) is an independent photojournalist based in Hamburg, Germany. She studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg, graduating in 2005. She started working for magazines, NGOs and on her personal photo projects, focusing on social, environmental and human rights issues. She worked in various countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Her work has been published in „Die Zeit“, „Der Spiegel“, „stern“, „GEO“, „Cosmopolitan“, „The New York Times Lens Blog“ and „The Washington Post“ among others. Since 2007 she has been represented by laif, agency for photos and reports.
2017 she received Sony World Photography Awards first prize in category daily life. In 2016 she was selected as a winner at the Magnum Photography Awards in category photojournalism. In 2015, she received World Press 3rd prize, category nature singles.