|Documentary Photo Series Displayed in ACEN
A new gallery is on display in the Academic Center's first floor hallway, although its composition is more documentary than imagination. The exhibit includes 18 pictures of sex trafficking, brutality, and hardship existing in Cambodia. Professor Ejenobo Oke selected the exhibit from the work of Tim Matsui, a professional photo-journalist, who photographed the entire collection along with many other world stories that can be seen on his website.
Each picture tells a personal story as tragic as the next and includes a caption but no title. The effect of browsing the collection is like wading into a swift-moving river. A casual passerby tests the water by observing a single picture, steps in further by reading the caption, finds the story shockingly compelling, and finally gets caught up in the stream of photographed narratives that is the collection.
Many shots are strictly documentary. The subject matter does not need to be beautiful, and is sometimes decidedly not. The photo which Oke calls “hardest to look at” is the third picture on the right wall of a little boy and many others living off a massive landfill. Filth practically emanates from the portrait and the boy almost certainly has not long to live. It is a fine example of a picture that is absolutely horrible but absolutely necessary. Capturing this moment may disturb the viewer, but it also gives meaning to the subject's life.
However, there are some shots that are simply beautiful. Professor Oke's favorite artistic photo is the second photo on the right wall, depicting a woman named Rin checking her make-up in a mirror before another woman who is getting her make-up applied by a transgendered woman named Doi. Rin's floating eye, the face behind her with eyes closed, and Doi's sure hands accent the dark image with a tragic grace.
Artists like Tim Matsui use art as a means to raise awareness of troubled regions such as Cambodia. Matsui works a lot with sex trafficking and is currently covering an operation to catch pimps of underage prostitutes and rehabilitate their unfortunate employees. Oke felt that the focus of these photojournalists fit well with Manchester's focus on human rights and its mission to create compassionate students improving the human condition.
Exhibiting art such as Matsui's serves a dual purpose, according to Oke. Firstly, the story of Cambodian life is not particularly well known and deserves more awareness. Secondly, the level of human suffering in these communities should make viewers realize how good their lives really are. If students could imagine how vicious the communities there are, how disadvantaged its people are, then maybe they could feel compelled to improve their own community and its lives. “Sometimes that means a monetary donation,” Oke said. “Sometimes it means helping at a soup kitchen... but people should not feel pressured to respond. Every individual will respond in a way unto themselves.”
The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 11, 2013, while classes are in session. If students have time between classes, visit the first floor of the Academic Building for a graphic lesson on the human condition.