Thank you to everyone who came out on Tuesday for our fist official presentation. The response was great, and so was the feedback. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and this is a good step along the way. Till next time!
Tomorrow night (Tuesday, July 10), we are hosting an informal presentation about our work in Romania. Since details have been vague, this is a chance for our NYC supporters to better understand what we did, and follow along with some of the stories we encountered on our journey. We are excited to share our experience with you, and look forward to the presentation.
If it seems like we've been off the radar since we came back, it's (only) partially true. We have spent the past month easing ourselves back into our New York lives with all that it entails, while also mentally processing everything that took place on our trip.
And, of course, we've been working on post-production.
This week, we look forward to developing the remaining half of the film shot on location. Patricia is transcribing and translating interviews daily. Annie is preparing and scanning the body of work for a cohesive edit. We meet regularly to discuss ideas and formulate opportunities for pushing the work out once it is ready.
We are committed to seeing this project through. At the same time, we continue to covet your support and encouragement through a tedious post-production process. There is much more work to be done, as we strive for and anticipate exhibitions and wider exposure ahead.
For those who live in New York, we plan to host a casual debriefing party next month (please stay tuned!). Now that we have had a chance to go through the bulk of images and interviews, we are excited and eager to share our experience with you.
Finally, to our wonderful sponsors: Your patience and participation in this project is HUGE and we cannot thank you enough.
It's been an amazing trip and now that it comes to an end, we thought of posting some parting thoughts. There was much to learn on the ground: about the way that persons who have been trafficked either fight and/or move on with their lives, about prevention, law enforcement (or lack thereof), organized crime, petty crime, how to sneak into hard-to-access spots, how to be invisible while taking photographs (Annie already knew this; Patricia learned from her), even how sometimes it is impossible to blend in. We learned, or had it reinforced, how mentally and physically exhausting it can be to interview persons who have experienced trauma. We quickly became efficient at running through personal stories, making lists of locations, and following them one by one to photograph. We saw many breathtakingly beautiful places, and perfectly mundane places, with very bad histories. In fact, we rarely saw an ugly place with an ugly history, though it certainly happened. It's the paradox of this work.
Our work is not over. Post-production involves hours, days, weeks, likely months of editing and printing (Annie works with film as an art form). Patricia will spend countless hours listening to recordings and translating them; she is grateful for every person who was able to communicate in English. Annie will spend countless hours scanning film and editing pictures. We will then spend countless hours putting pieces of the puzzle together to create the final product.
We made sure to only use material that we could verify from multiple sources. We are grateful to all our collaborators, and to all of you who made this project possible. We look forward to sharing our experience with you.
How to photograph a place that no longer exists, that has been torn down or transformed?
Difficulty in locating and gaining access to key locations have made working the past couple days particularly challenging.
Nevertheless, it is a good challenge.
We returned to one of our original cities to continue work started in the beginning of the trip. Being back means knowing what to expect more or less, but even so surprises are part of daily life in this work.
Over the past few days we have met with knowledgeable social workers, a police officer in the local anti-trafficking unit and an independent journalist, all of whom are providing us with invaluable leads for the photographic side of our project. They reinforce what is becoming more and more clear:
Human trafficking is a cunning beast that takes on various and evolving forms, with many roots and branches as result of underlying systems of oppression. Hearing these stories, it is impossible to understand and address human trafficking without addressing the broader socio-economic realities, gender inequality, domestic violence, racism, and poverty.
We knew this coming in, but these systemic problems increasingly complicate the creation of tangible work.
We ask everyone we interview, including persons who have been trafficked, for their definition and interpretation of trafficking. There is the standard, legal answer, where the individual parts of the equation are well-defined: we expectantly received this answer from the police officer, who quoted the section of the law that he acts by in his daily activities. Everyone else's definition, however, is much wider, and we often see psychological manipulation, besides coercive physical violence, playing a part of people's understanding of trafficking--whether they are professionals or persons who experienced this first-hand.
This is especially true, perhaps more now than 5-10 years ago, when women, men and minors were presented with false information and opportunities for work abroad and were consequently forced to produce against their will. Trafficking today has a much more ambiguous and deceptive appearance, thus making it harder to expose. What happens now is often done under the cover of legality, with proper paperwork and even some portion of consent. This makes law enforcement particularly difficult, as does corruption.
The New York Times posted a relevant discussion this week in "Room for Debate" that touches on some of the issues that we are confronting here on a daily basis. We highly recommend it.
One of the lovely Eastern Orthodox traditions is the midnight candlelight Easter service. Patricia grew up attending it every year with her family, and we made sure not to miss out since we are here in the spring. People come prepared with candles, which are sold throughout the city that night. Soon after midnight, the priest gives candlelight from the steps of the cathedral, which then passes down from person to person to the very ends of the crowd. We found out that the light comes from Bethlehem in a special helicopter.
Our work on the ground has several facets to it, which insures that we are working virtually non-stop. Before arriving, we contacted people and organizations who work with different aspects of trafficking willing to collaborate with us. Since our arrival, we have diligently followed a web of networks by talking to anyone who may be able to assist our project with relevant expertise. This is how we came to interview a Member of Parliament, a prevention specialist who prepares school campaigns that educate young people about the dangers and warning signs of trafficking, several social workers, and a psychologist, among others.
Simultaneously, we are working directly with persons who have experienced trafficking first-hand. With them we also conduct interviews and make photographs in places where their stories take us.
We are constantly planning, organizing and re-organizing our schedule around such meetings. This work requires that we remain flexible and open to unexpected opportunities arising. Our understanding of trafficking is expanding daily, and our vision is reshaped accordingly. Transposing our expanded understanding of trafficking into relevant, intelligent pictures is a challenge worth pursuing.