Feature Photograph


I really had to wrestle with this one.  I’m sure I’ll offend someone, but please know offending is not my intention.  Let’s cut to the chase.  This weeks photo is significant because it’s of a girl I suspect to be under 18 who is working in bar and going with farang men and is passing herself off as 18.  Imagery is powerful.  When you get used to looking through a viewfinder, especially if you shoot a lot of young ladies, you start to notice things others don’t see right away.

I was out and about in the farang based bars looking for the right girl to pose for a project I was working on.  Everyone has different tastes, but I like to think I can pick out the faces the majorities will find most attractive.  Twenty or so bars later I walked in and saw a young lady whose face was hidden under heavy bar girl makeup, wearing bar girl clothes, and doing bargirl things, but her facial features were striking.  Unfortunately for this project I needed her exactly as I found her, looking like a bar girl.  I set up my camera and my portable strobe and prepared to take her picture.  I discovered the battery for the portable strobe had failed and being the professional I am I had left my spare battery at home because I didn’t feel like carrying it.  $600 batteries aren’t supposed to fail, but the point was taken.  I made arrangements with the young lady to come back in two days time and explained that I would need a release signed and how much I would pay her for her time.  She agreed and I left upset with myself for failing to at least put the spare battery pack in the car.

Two days later my new temporary assistant and myself appeared back in the bar and this extremely young teenage girl who looked ready for Jr. High bounces up to us with a big smile obviously happy we returned as promised.  I’ll admit that even after 20 years in Asia and 6 in Thailand,  I was shocked.  I really had to look closely to see this was the same girl.  Until she talked and I recognized her voice I even considered it might have been her younger sister.

Bless her heart, she had her hair freshly prepared, makeup perfect, what looked like a nice new sundress, and it was obvious she had went to a lot of trouble to look her best for the photo session.  Unfortunately I needed a picture of a slutty looking bargirl, not a Jr. High School student.  Still, she went to great lengths to look her best so without saying a word about her change of style I asked her to sit down and I’d explain the model release.  Model releases aren’t really necessary in Thailand, but I prefer to use them anyway, especially for a paid commission that would be published.

The moment I walked in this night I suspected she was not 18 but I didn’t want to spook her away or cause her to lose face and I wasn’t planning on shooting her nude or anything like that so age for this particular purpose didn’t matter.  When she signed her signature I asked her to do what I ask all models to do, hold the signed release (one each in Thai and English) up next to her face with one hand, and her ID card in the other hand.  This is the industry practice.  She said she left her ID card at home.  I whispered to my temporary assistant if she could inquire about her age during our shoot and she said yes.  This time when I set up my camera and lights everything went well and 30 minutes later we were done.  I paid her and she looked very proud to have earned so much money just because someone wanted her picture.

Model in Summer Dress

She skipped her way to the back room of the bar like a giddy school girl and disappeared.  My assistant told me she couldn’t get a straight answer about the age, but from some timelines she’d given her about other people and events in her life she didn’t think she was 18 either.  I had to slightly rewrite this because I’d estimated an age significantly below 18, but that would be a guess.  The fact is I don’t know for sure what age this girl is, she could be 30, she could be 14. 

The mamasan sat down with us at this moment and asked me if we were pleased with the pictures.  I said we were, that she was a very pretty girl.  Mamasan told us “she works bar, 2000 baht long time?”  She was asking me if I wanted to take this child for the evening!  Looking around the bar I counted 4-5 farangs, most probably over 60 years of age, and all of a sudden I didn’t feel well.  I left the bar, and have since decided to process the images for my original purpose not because I’ll use them for this purpose, but because I want to get some prints made and return to give them to her.  I keep thinking there must be something else I could do.

Often, I’ll have students in my workshops who want to learn to shoot their girlfriends and wives in the bedroom or a hotel setting.  This is a lot of fun for most guys and it’s a lot of fun to teach them.  Once the student said he’d pick out his own model and meet me at the agreed upon location and he did.  Right when we got to the point where she was supposed to disrobe I asked if she’d signed the release and if he’d seen her ID card.  Something, probably my experience with faces, had alarm bells going off.  It turns out she was 16!  We sent her home and both of us knew we’d narrowly escaped unknowingly doing something very bad.  Since, I select my own models from these areas when necessary and I check their ID cards very carefully.

I’m sure there are plenty of sick guys who get off on underage girls and I hope they get caught and put away.  But I’m equally sure there are plenty of men in the bars taking girls back to their rooms who have no idea they’re about to have sex with a minor, which could get them jail time in Thailand and their home country and ruin their life.  Men, be especially careful out there.  If you have any doubts at all ask to see their ID card and then inspect it very carefully.  It’s the right thing to do.