The day I was ashamed to be a photojournalist

Back in 2011, my friend and colleague, Zigor Aldama and I visited the Bangladesh brothels for the very first time. At that time, this story was relatively new and “The Whore’s Glory” documentary had not yet become a big media hit. I was 26 years-old, with not much experience in journalism, and was about to discover one of the most important and touching stories I have worked on and developed up to date.

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Asha in 2011 and 2016.

I have never gotten over the fact that the story could have been done better, if I had more time.
Time. Is. Never. Enough. It is a curse that never seems to be on my side.

This feeling has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since. Until this year.
This year, we were given the opportunity to go back, exactly five years after from our first visit. Hooray!
I was over the moon! For once in my life, nothing could go wrong. I am… INVINCIBLE!

Searching for the sex workers we met 5 years ago. / Zigor Aldama

Searching for the sex workers we met 5 years ago. / Zigor Aldama

We made our first step into the brothel.
(yes! We are finally back!). We wanted to start off on the right foot and make a first good impression; show them how happy we were to see them and to explain why we were there again. We kept all the gear inside our bags, taking it nice and slow.

Before we knew what was happening, we felt an immediate cloud of rage and disapproval in the atmosphere. Some girls started to run away, but most of them covered their faces.

We weren’t expecting a welcome parade, but their reaction was definitely the opposite. We were clueless to what was going on. Not a good way to start…

But then, we learned the truth.

As many of you may already know, most of the sex workers have been forced into that world for different reasons, but their identities and their current situation always remained unknown to their loved ones. And obviously, they wanted to keep it that way at all costs.

Two years ago, a European news crew visited this brothel. During their time there, they didn’t only documented these girls’ lives, but also recorded their sexual encounters with customers, WITHOUT their approval. These “journalists” set up cameras in their rooms, and taped the activities secretly and uploaded the material in different online platforms.

Needless to say, the videos were also viewed by people who were closed to the sex workers so the humiliation, anxiety and pain were an inevitable outcome.

From that point on, all the girls were and presently are understandably hostile with anyone related to the media and journalism. We (the journalists) have betrayed their trust and caused an irreparable pain. And personally I have never been so ashamed.

In the time that I have been working as a photographer, the very first thing I have learnt was to respect and protect those people I photograph. We shouldn’t take advantage of their trust by imposing our own personal interests on them.

I will never know what’s behind a person’s motivation to behave in such despicable way, and I wonder if the pressures of success and achieving THE best story have blinded their judgment.

We should question ourselves in why we do what we do; whether to create awareness on an issue, or to change perception towards people, to gain editor’s approval or to become famous. Whatever the case, just remember; when you act selfishly, imposing your own unethical behavior, it will not only affect the rest of us, but also those whom we have promised our commitment and responsibility to.

 

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