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The Longings of the Others by Sandra Hoyn

By Matthew Oxley | 1 year ago

In the run up to the 12th edition of the Angkor Photo Festival (December 3 - 10, 2016), we’ll be featuring a select number of photographers whose will be showcased in Siem Reap, Cambodia for this year’s festival.

The Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops is a free international platform and educational resource for established and emerging photographers. It is the longest-running photography event in Southeast Asia.


Sandra Hoyn studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg, Germany, graduating in 2005. She started working as an independent photojournalist for magazines, NGOs and on her personal projects focusing on social, environmental and human rights issues. She worked in various countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Since 2007 she is represented by laif, agency for photos and reports. More photos on Instagram.

Hi Sandra. Tell us more about your series, ‘The Longings of the Others’

The Kandapara brothel in the district of Tangail is the oldest and one of the largest in the country - it has existed for some 200 years. The brothel district is surrounded by a two-meter wall. In the narrow streets, there are food stalls, tea shops and street vendors. Here live and work more than 700 sex workers with their children and their madams. Their customers are policemen, politicians, factory workers, groups of teenage boys.

Many of the women were either trafficked or born inside the brothel's walls and secure in this way their livelihood. Officially, they must be 18 years old, but most of them are underage. Although prostitution is legal in Bangladesh since 2000, these women are socially stigmatized outside their "homes" and thus often choose to stay and continue supporting their families with their earnings.


How did this project come about?

I read about that Bangladesh is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries where prostitution in registered brothels is legal. The brothel is a microcosm with its own rules and hierarchies of power which are completely different from mainstream society. I was curious about living in the brothel and the women's situation in the society.

At the beginning it was difficult to get access to the women and customers. I was there with a translator and a local photographer friend. The first week, I didn't take photographs, I just walked around and talked with them. Taking intimate photographs was possible after they trusted me. Some customers didn't want to be in the photographs, but other customers didn't care at all about it.

Sometimes I felt very bad to be taking pictures and it was difficult to keep the journalistic distance. With many protagonists of my stories I develop a friendship. So on one side it is good for the story to come close to the people, on the other side it is hard to stay on a distance and remind the people and myself always that I am not just a friend, I am also a photojournalist.

I hope that recognizing the existence of sex workers in Bangladesh is a step to ensure that they have a right to live a normal life as any other human being and to prevent the reasons of prostitution. The sex workers are socially stigmatized outside their "homes", also they are not educated. It´s not easy for the women to leave the brothel. If they are taken out of the brothel other girls will replace them. There are many problems which are connected with prostitution, like corruption, human trafficking and underage marriage. Most young girls in the brothel have been married before at an age of 9-12.

There are no alternatives for these girls and women, there is no support from the society, from the government or from their own families. Their environment should be improved. There should be more NGOs who educate them about their rights, about health etc. Education of the girls and women is a step to secure their future. In some brothel areas there are NGOs who take care of the children of the sex worker, have their own class or send them to school.


You’ve worked all over the world - is there one place you find yourself drawn to most?

I like Asia very much, but don´t have a favourite place. I just love traveling, discover the world and get to know people. You never know what is going to happen around the next corner.

Why photography?

It´s a way of living, I don't want to do anything else. I am interested in human relationships, in various factors of human life. I want to create awareness about injustices and social problems. When I work on a personal project, usually on taboo themes or topics that touch me personally and make me angry.

I think photography can’t change the world, but I want to inform with my photographs what is happening in the world. Public awareness is important. Getting a problem out in the open will hopefully bring change. I believe that photographs can change the people who view them. I reach my goal if people are emotionally touched and start discussing about the topic.


Do you have a photographic philosophy?

Go beyond limits, trying to be authentic and never change yourself just to please somebody with photographs. To find a balance between earning money and making own photo documentaries is important. If I am able to pre-finance my photo projects on my own (with scholarships, awards, wedding photography etc), I can choose photograph subjects that interest me, have more time to get deeper into the story and don't depend on magazines and their rules.

Where in the world are you, what’s next for you?

I stay in Thailand and Cambodia till end of January, then I start a long term documentary in Germany.

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