Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dana Popa

The ‘Not Natasha’ exhibition is moving and upsetting but an issue that needs to be brought to light. Creating an awareness of sex trafficking of young girls taken and forced into a life of misery.

As I explored the exhibition my eyes fell upon a lady, sorrow and desperation exhumed from her tearful face.
This image shows an older woman standing in front of a backdrop of a waterfall, she is holding a small photograph of a girl out stretched in front of herself. This image displays bright colours and with the waterfall backdrop there is a contrast between a setting of tranquillity and peace opposing the older lady whom is quite the opposite in emotion.
The backdrop in this image holds many linear sections with the woman standing very central against it but keeping the waterfall in full view. This only aids in the contrast of her emotions and the emotions that attempt to combat with the woman we see. One can suggest that this is a way of depicting the truth about sex traffic and the disguise of this from those that appose.

Although one can only make assumptions on this image as to the meaning behind it I believe that we can safely suggest that the small photograph we see the woman holding is one of her daughter, a daughter that was taken from her mother for use in sex trafficking. When I gaze through the gates to the soul this woman draws out of me raw emotion, pain, suffering and a lose only a parent can feel. I know that what I feel will fade as I go about my life but for this one lonely lady hers has been unlawfully taken from her. A search that will never end for her until the loved one is returned or until this woman’s dying day.

As much as this image alongside the accompanying images of the exhibition needs to be seen in the public eye I find myself upset, angry and most of all thankful that things have taken a shift forward in the motion to have this abuse ended. This issue does not only lie in the poorest countries of the world but are still very much present on our doorstep. The streets of Soho hold dark secrets that will unravel as time and attention moves this issue into the light. Those that have been thrust into a way of life no-one should ever have to live will be freed but the question is how long must they wait, till enough people care to help liberate them.

Sarah Johnson

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Dana Popa Review

This image shows a colour photograph of a girl and a man leaning against a red car, the girl wears white and is slightly overexposed due to the sun shining on her, making her prominent in the photograph. The man is pouring a drink and wears swimming trunks. The car is parked under a patch of trees with the sun streaming through the branches. This photograph almost fills the frame of Popa’s image but for a glimpse of the dark wooden surface it sits on and the bare wall it is propped against. The photograph is slightly cropped by the framing of the image at the right and on the left there is a dark gap, this framing places the girl in the centre of the image.

The photograph is from a body of work titled not Natasha that documents the experiences of sex-trafficked women from Moldova and the families who await their return. The girl in this image was sex-trafficked but is believed to have escaped, the photograph in the image can now be understood as a family photograph from the past. By photographing this photograph Popa emphasizes the distance of the girl in the original image; it is a trace of a trace, the girl is not tangible but it is as if her existence is validated by this image. In his essay Beyond the Lens Mark Sealy wrote that ‘The portraits of those who can only wait and the photographs they cling to – of those that have been trafficked – become tragic icons of hope, as the person who has departed will never again fit the image that is held up for us to observe.’ This poignant observation is a succinct description of the intention of this image.

Popa shot this image on 35mm colour film and printed it quite large for the exhibition. Mark Sealy wrote that the use of colour was a ‘deliberate turn away from the gritty and distant realism associated with black-and-white documentary photography. Colour brings the viewer closer to the victim and effectively closes the distance between them and us.’ The use of fine quality prints and the gallery as a stage for this harrowing topic has its ethical issues but I personally feel that this form of presentation fits the type of image being shown. The photographs are quiet, not acting as evidence or proof but as ‘signifiers of emptiness, waiting, emotional damage and external harm.’ (Mark Sealy) The images are strangely more compelling for not being forced; the time Popa spent building relationships with the girls and the families is evident and there is an openness about the exhibition that allows a viewer to spend time with the images, there is nothing frantic about them, which makes the experience of looking at them somehow more real.

Freya Kruczenyk

Dana Pope Exhibition at the Impressions Gallery, Bradford.

Dana Pope's work, 'Not Natasha', is a series of images which have been shot since 2006, while Pope was in the Republic of Moldova, documenting the experiences of sex trafficked women, and their famillies.

Pope has created a somber feeling by combining light and dark with a muted, limited, and not overly saturated colour palette. From what we can see from this scene, the surroundings are in relative disrepair. The curtains we can see are tatty, dirt and stains are apparent on the floor and walls, and the bed has no sheets or coverings on its battered matress. The presence of a bed in the frame with a discarded object on it, conveys the topic that the photographer is considering clearly. Not only that, but even though the subject is somewhat seperate from the bed, it still remains lined up with her line of sight.

We are clearly given a sense of voyerism, and of looking 'in' upon a private life - the subject seems unaware of the camera, and distracted by something she is looking at in her hands, just out of the frame. Not only that, but the pose of the subject - knees pressed together and leaning forward to view the object in her hands, rather than relaxed or outstretched, conveys a sense of concern and contemplation. The combination of this sense of contemplation, combined with the direction of the subject's gaze, leads us to believe the two separate subjects (the girl, and the bed) are somehow tied together in the girl's thoughts. The large amount of dark space around the girl in the image draws our attention to her, and leaves space for her thoughts, and the thoughts the viewer holds about her.

It is clear that the photographer has separated us, the viewers, from the subject of the image. not only is the subject placed far away in the distance in the frame, but she is placed inside what is seen as another room, or perhaps a reflection in a mirror. Also, this choice of framing conveys a sense of good and evil - the placement of light and dark within the frame plunges our subject into a constrained space in which she is surrounded by darkness.

As with many of the images in Pope's series, it is not the identity or nature of the woman in the image which is the focus, but rather the situation and location in which the photographer is documenting her. The realtive annonimity of the subject leads the viewer to think more about the place and situation we are being shown, than the subject herself. This photograph is a strong example of the ways in which Pope has approached her documentation of the eastern European sex trade.

Maria Galvin

Kirsty Garland

As with most of the images in this series, it is not immediately obvious from the content alone that the female subject is, or was, a sex worker. However, once the viewer is made aware of this fact various connotations are obvious. Despite the fact that the woman appears to be sleeping, the clinical nature of the tiled walls and floors, combined with the crisp, white sheet draped over her are reminiscent of a morgue, hinting at a possible outcome for many of these women. The pink slippers or sandals on the floor are the only personable objects, reminding the viewer of her humanity, regardless of her otherwise sparse surroundings. Her hair and a glimpse of the side of her face are the only context we have for what she looks like, allowing the viewer to project their own opinions onto her – a faceless metaphor for the women who share her plight.

While the innocuous act of sleeping could be intended to show her vulnerability, there are poignant connotations to her previous line of work, and the viewer can almost imagine a client hidden from view behind the line of her body. The image is, in many ways, a contrast between two opposing messages. On the one hand Popa appears to go to pains to show her subject’s humanity and fragility, drawing the viewer’s sympathy for a tangible victim. However the cloaked body and faceless cascade of hair suggest she is one of many statistics, a ghost who slipped through societies net to become a nameless representation of prostitution.

The image highlights how foreign her situation is to the viewer in many ways. We can vaguely imagine what she’s been through, but without having been there ourselves, we are a million miles away from understanding it. This puts a distance between her and the viewer that Popa strives to lesson by depicting her in the simple, human act of sleeping. The small bed, reminiscent of that of a child’s places her currant situation at the other end of the spectrum from prostitution – the innocence of childhood. These two contradicting elements to the image serve to remind the viewer that her profession was not her own choice, and does not reflect any aspect of her personality.

The image is shot in colour, probably largely to depict the reality of the situation in a realistic rather than stylized manner. Despite the muted colours of the sheets and tiles that surround her, the injection of pink in her sandals and highlights of red in her hair allow us to see her femininity, proving that regardless of the traumas she’s suffered, she still retains her own personality and identity.

This photo is an image of a telephone and childrens toys and some lists left for someone. the image has a regressive depth of field its very sharp at the front of the photo and at the back its very blurry.the objects are on a decorative antique worktop and there is a light switch on the wall. the light is coming from the left and fading towards the right of the photo. although it is not obvious at first this image shows alot about human trafficking. it shows the kind of people who are involoved women and childrenare involved closely with human trafficking this is an example of the groteseque nature of human trafficking it raises the issues of exposing children to this kind of sexual content and how wrong this whole thing is. the notes and texts are example of how the women still try and live normal lives writing notes and still trying to lead an everyday life in this awful situation.
the image compositionally is interesting because the soft focus draws you into the image. the rule of thirds is present in this photo with the desk going one third into photo and the wall taking up two thirds of the image.the attention to details are so evident in this photo and that is why i think its such a powerful image.

The pain of others... Anne-Marie Atkinson

The pain of others…
Anne-Marie Atkinson

Among the harrowing, though non-explicit, images of scarred arms, red-light price lists, dingy bedrooms decorated with pornographic cut-outs, ram-shackle houses and women struggling to regain their lives, one little old lady strikes a meaningful chord.

Dana Popa’s current exhibition, not Natasha, at Bradford Impressions Gallery from 5th Fed until 18th April 2010, brings the disgusting abuses experienced by Eastern European girls who are tricked and trafficked into enforced prostitution into the public forum. A series of surrounding events and lectures, coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of International Woman’s Day, have furthered the push of ABP, who funded the project, to bring these issues into debate, using Popa’s work as an illustration.

To enrich the power of the work there are 3 clear strands within it: the girls themselves (escapees, recovering in women's shelters), the spaces that trafficked girls work in (brothel bedrooms in Soho) and the spaces the girls have let behind. With up to 50% of the female population of Moldova victims of trafficking at any one time, the magnitude of these spaces is a daunting prospect, almost inconceivable to those in Western Europe. Whole villages left bare of female presence; children with missing mothers; mothers with missing daughters… The image of Tanya, which itself contains another image, shows exactly this.

Denoting a fake, poster backdrop of an idyllic waterfall scene disturbingly incongruous with the subject matter, Tanya looks directly camera with a complex expression. She ponders her missing daughter, the image of which she holds tenderly in her hand, and at first there is sadness. Continue to gaze into her tear-brimmed eyes and a glimmer of hope is revealed, at being given the opportunity to tell her story. Finally the stillness of the image, which the backdrop accentuates, connotes a sense of acceptance, possibly of the worst. This static image produces peaks and troughs of emotion, but we can only be left asking, in the words of Mark Sealy, “What will become of them?”

The headscarf worn by Tanya and the way in which she holds her hands forward is reminiscent of religious imagery: nuns clutching rosaries. This links to another photograph in the exhibition denoting images of Mary, Jesus and angels on a girl’s dresser, which is more like a shrine. The connotation of the innocence and benevolence of the victims, and turning to God out of faith and desperation when the worst happens, furthers the power behind the project.

With only Tanya in focus and the image of her daughter Alexeeva excluded from the shallow depth of field, we are drawn entirely into the emotion of the subject. Unlike many of the other images in the exhibition, which put focus on the horrors experienced by the girls themselves, this image asks us to consider from an alternative point of view, the pain of others.

Human trafficking is a global industry, the most lucrative illegal business amassing more wealth each year than the drug trade (estimated at minimum $12 billion), and so the scope of those affected by it must clearly be huge. The invitation to consider the range of its impact seems new, complex, although entirely relevant.

The image I have chosen from Dana Pope’s ‘Not Natasha’ was shot with 35mm. It shows a battered gas cooker, and behind a net curtain their is a young woman holding a baby. The cooker is in focus with the netting, but behind it is all out of focus. The girl and baby are staring at an open door, which just looks like one big rectangle of light, this gives the image good natural lighting. The colors are split down the middle of the photo, the cooker’s side is dirty and dark while the other side is lighter, more softer colouring.

I find it interesting that the girl and baby are further away and unfocussed. I feel that the dirty oven being in focus gives the photo a grim, dark sense about it. There is a sadness present that wouldn’t usually be in an image with a mother and baby, it would usually be happy.

I understand the main theme is escaped women from the sex trafficking industry so this tells me the baby she is holding is a consequence of it. They are free now, they are looking at an open door, but the dirt and the grime will always be memories ‘behind the curtain’.

I know the artist had to build intimate relationships with these girls, and they eventually opened to her, so I feel this makes this photograph more intense.
Sex trafficking in Molodov is as common as 10% of the women being taken against their own will- these photos are only the escaped ones. Some photos from the set show areas where girls that are still missing lived, so Dana Pope is trying to give us the message that this is still going on.

I especially liked this image for it’s half dark/half light composition and one half in focus. It is like a visual metaphor of the story behind the image. They are free in this shot, but the focussed half that is dirty and dim is showing what the truth is, it is portraying the two worlds, but the dark is there first and the clearest.

Amy Cochrane