Letting photographs document women atrocity in Papua New Guinea
Svetlana Bachevanova – WNN Features
(WNN) New York, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: In the Oceania region, north of Cape York, Australia, the country of Papua New Guinea suffers under a hood of violence against women that still runs unabated, especially for those who live at the very bottom of society with little legal recourse or protection.
A new alarming trend in some assaults in the Papua capital city of Port Morseby have been documented carefully by award winning photojournalist Vlad Sokhin as he exposes an ancient, yet modern, form of violence against women in the region.
“Women told me their stories; many of which just shocked me,” outlined Sokhin in a one-on-one interview with WNN freelance photojournalist Svetlana Bachevanova who talked with Sokhin as the founder/publisher of Fotoevidence, an acclaimed ongoing online photodocumentary archive that also hosts The Fotoevidence Book Award. Through the award Fotoevidence recognizes each year, “a documentary photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in addressing a violation of human rights, a significant injustice or an assault on human dignity.”
Fotoevidence also brings stories to light through its online campaign: Report Injustice Now which gathers the most talented photographers who are working today to depict places worldwide where injustice continues; such as ‘The JuJu Project‘ by Japanese Tokyo-based photographer Ahn Se-hong, that outlines the struggles for today’s aging Comfort Women who were trapped working in forced brothels by the Japanese Army during World War II.
Growing up as a Russian/Portuguese photographer Sokhin currently lives in Sydney, Australia. In March 2012 he was recognized as the chosen finalist for the 2012 FotoEvidence Book Award.
In his in-depth documentation of social injustice against women, Sokhin has not been afraid. He has not shied away from showing an honest and at times hard look at violent acts that have often ripped away the very core of women who have been trapped under injustice in Papua New Guinea. These women have been on the receiving end where 80 percent of all violence against women reports currently still go unpunished.
“If you dig deep beneath the pain of Sokhin’s images you can find compassion and a rising sense of outrage in the desperate needs for protection of all women,” says WNN – Women News Network founder and editor-at-large Lys Anzia.
Sokhin’s project “Crying Meri” was selected for a screening at Visa Pour L’Image 2012 in Perpignan, France. His photos have also been displayed by a United Nations educational campaign in Papua New Guinea, addressing the issue of violence against women.
Photographer Vlad is clearly talented and humble. His work has been published in many international newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler (Poland), Vi Menn (Norway), GEO Voyage (France), Stern Gesund Leben (Germany), The Age (Australia), Publica (Portugal), Le Monde des Religions (France), Ogoniok (Russia), GEO (Germany), Vokrug Sveta (Russia), NPR (USA), Correio de Manha (Portugal), Independent Newspaper (Russia), AOL News (USA), Ca m’interesse (France), Sacvoyage (Russia), and VIVA Magazine (Poland), among others.
This fascinating interview by Svetlana Bachevanova with Vlad Sokhin shows how image and photography is key to exposing the needs today for improvement and change to help both women and men in our global society:
Svetlana Bachevanova: Your project Crying Meri documents widespread sexual abuse of woman in Papua New Guinea, where over 60% of women report being assaulted. How did you become interested in this project?
Vlad Sokhin: I have been interested in Papua New Guinea for a very long time. When I moved to Australia, in September of last year, I decided that Papua New Guinea would be the first country to visit and work on a project. I started doing a research on possible ideas for projects and stumbled on a large report on the violence against women, made by the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission in 1992. I was shocked by the facts and figures and began to look for some photographic evidence of this horror. Among the photo-stories about the country’s culture, tribes, masks and festivals I did not find anything about violence against women. At this point, I decided that this theme interested me a lot and I needed to just go and start working on it.
SB. What were your goals for the project when you started?
VS. My first idea was to do just a small photo-essay. During the first week of shooting, I was not even sure that I got anything of value. Almost blindly, I found the characters for the story. Papua New Guinea is a very bureaucratic country with a very slow pace of life. If somebody tells you that it will take a day to receive permission to photograph in a hospital, it may take few days before you receive it. But then everything seemed straightforward and I knew that I had everything I needed to start working on the project about violence against women. By the middle of shooting, I realized that it would be something bigger than just a photo-essay.
I witnessed so much grief that I felt that, I simply did not have the right to just leave and not come back to try to do something to help these women. I certainly do not believe that nowadays a picture can change the world, but at least it helps to inform and raise awareness about the problem. So I hope that there are people who will see my work and they will be willing and able to change at least something in the country. I just believe that there are people in the country with the opportunity to help. They just need to want to, so I hope my work inspires them.
SB. How did you gain access to pursue the project?
VS. Before I left for Papua New Guinea, I contacted the Russian Honorary Consul Maria Lavrentieva in the country and asked if she could help me with permission to shoot. As a result, a few days after my arrival, I was able to shoot without any problems: at the main hospital in the country and at the Family Support Centre. Also I went and knocked on the doors of various organizations that help women, police stations and prisons. Almost everywhere I was given the green light without any problems. In general, Papua New Guinea is quite an interesting country. There is constant chaos and violence on the streets, but no one cares if someone photographing all of this. I think that in Russia or Australia it would be much harder to obtain permission for such recording.
SB. You photographed and talked to women who were victims of a rape and violence. What did they tell you? How did they react to being photographed?
VS. Women told me their stories; many of which just shocked me. For example the story of Helena Michael, 40, who on December 27, 2011 was attacked by a ‘cannibal’ near the Boroko police station, in the central part of Port Moresby. The attacker bit off Helena’s lower lip and wanted to sink his teeth into her throat. The woman managed to escape by kicking her assailant in his testicles and biting three of his fingers, forcing him to release her. Police arrested the man and found out that it was his third attempt to eat human flesh. Having spent three days in the hospital, Helena went to the police station to initiate criminal proceedings against the cannibal but discovered that he had been released due to the lack of complaints.
The first time I heard about this story from a local journalist, I thought that it would help my project if I could find this woman. I called some journalists, asked about her in all social centers and hospitals and went to the Boroko police station, where that case was reported. Everyone heard about this terrible story, but no one could help me find Helena. Even the police didn’t have her contact details. Then one day I was passing a square in the center of Port Moresby and saw a woman, walking in my direction.
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