The eyes and life of Bonnie

With the story of a prostitute from Copenhagen, a Danish photographer won one of the World Press Photo awards. Her aim: go deep into people’s life.

By Péricles Carvalho

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What’s the power of a portrait? What do the eyes, shadows and wrinkles show us about someone’s past? Those are the main questions asked to the photographer Marie Hald about her World Press (and other awards) winner photo: a portrait of Bonnie Cleo Andersen, a 38 years old woman, mother of three and prostitute since she was 19 years old in Denmark.

According to the photographer, she has always been interested in the issue of prostitution, which is legal in Denmark since 1999. It may be legal, but doesn’t necessarily mean to be an easy life. Even though Denmark is a country with high welfare standards, the problems involving prostitution such as violence, depression and marginalization are the same of many other countries around the world. That is what points  out the study “Prostitution in Denmark” published by The Danish National Centre for Social Research in 2011.

To Hald, finding Bonnie was exactly what she wanted once she has always been interested in this issue. “I’ve always been interested in going deep in a portrait character, trying to understand the world of who is photographed” says Hald. And she went really deep, photographing for example Bonnie’s meetings with costumers and her frozen eyes showing that her body may be there but her thoughts are far away.

Bonnie’s daily life with her children and family as well as in the room during her work sessions show us the harshness of prostitution and also the daily battle to keep living. Her first time as a prostitute was motivated by her need for money. At the time the prostitute described her first experience as “unpleasant, shy and ashamed” especially of her body being exposed.

The photographer argues that she sees suffering in Bonnie’s eyes but also a deep redemption. “After being together I learned to care about her. Her eyes are sad but I also see hope and happiness when she is with her children and with her family”, explains Hald.

In fact the photo story shows paradoxes and somehow the sensibility of the photographer’s lenses picture a woman who is more than the profession she has done during half of her life: she has feelings, family and friends. Despite all the suffering and the problems she has been through, she finds a way to keep living with the scars of her past in her face, her strong makeup and tattoos.

“She has a great story. Not great in the way she has experienced good things, in fact she has been through a lot. You can see it in her face and in her eyes. I think she is very strong because she could not care about her children and only go deep taking drugs, but every morning she tries to be her best”, explains the photographer.

Marie Hald, a very young student, was born in 1987 and attends the Danish School of Media and Journalism, which included a semester at the International Center of Photography in New York City, USA, in 2012. She won first prize in the 2012 CPOY Documentary category and has exhibited at the Copenhagen Photo Festival. She lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The photo story “Bonnie” is in exhibition at the ArOS Museum together with the work of other praised Danish photographers.

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