Morning sky as seen during a flight from London to Seoul. All Rights Reserved.
I was born in 1973 in Berlin, then commonly referred to as West Berlin. My family shared the fate of many, being torn into fragments by the German division. Our frequent travels across the iron curtain remain vivid memories until today, as do the years growing up in a city that was located, island-like, in the midst of hostile territory, as the daily ride to school along the Berlin Wall never let you forget.
During a gap year in between schools, I left Germany for the first time, on this occasion for Denmark. Later, after years of failed film school applications and mediocre short film productions, I left Germany again, this time for London, to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London and the world’s leading centre for the study of subjects concerned with Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Five years prior to my late entry into academia, I had started working as a projectionist, by now an almost lost profession where 35mm film is concerned. Upon arriving in London, I found an excellent position as events technician, allowing me to survive for altogether six years in this city that’s as exciting as it is expensive.
Moving from Berlin to London, from one multicultural city to another, did not exactly prepare me for life in South Korea, back then a somewhat monocultural society, although that’s quite rapidly changing these days. Majoring in Korean Studies came along two prolonged stays in South Korea, initially for the experience, later for an exchange year at Korea University, one of three universities traditionally seen as most prestigious. In retrospect, the exchange marked a watershed, as my acquaintance and later friendship with a professor led me to apply at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, recipient of the 1993 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education.
My research focus shifted over the years from international security concerns, namely the conflict on the Korean peninsula, divided as my own country once was, to human rights issues, in particular human trafficking prevention, following an encounter with a young Red Yao woman in northwestern Vietnam who told me about cases from her village. Subsequently, I began to work for two NGOs in Thailand in the field of children and youth development, using the skills acquired throughout seven years of studies and more than ten years as multimedia technician.
Children on the shore of the Nam River, Laos. All Rights Reserved.
In 2010, I completed my thesis titled Transnationalising a Thai Grassroots NGO: A Comprehensive Approach to Human Trafficking Prevention. A significant portion of this thesis assessed anti-trafficking measures and the intentions of different civil society groups engaged in the global anti-trafficking movement. Triggered by the research findings, I developed the plan for a new research project, simply titled “Research Project Korea”.
In September 2011, after a period of intensive fundraising, I relocated once more to South Korea to examine “The Impact of Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law on Sex Workers’ Human Rights”. I conducted this sensitive research independently from any organisation or university. Research Project Korea officially concluded in 2014, although I continue to post occasional updates and maintain close contact with sex workers in South Korea.
In July 2012, I participated as a delegate at the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata; later that year, I relocated to Germany and continued my research and related activities in the European context. In 2013, I organised the Berlin Protest to End Violence against Sex Workers on July 19th in collaboration with the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) and German sex worker activists. In November 2013, I co-organised a protest against anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer in collaboration with German sex worker organisation Professional Association for Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD) and Hydra e.V. In December 2012 and October 2013, I submitted evidence to the the parliaments of Scotland and Northern Ireland to help stop the introduction of laws to criminalise the purchase of sexual services. While the Scottish parliament rejected the bill, the Northern Ireland Assembly sadly passed it, despite the first-ever protest by sex workers and allies in Belfast.
In March and December 2013, I gave research presentations at symposiums at Humboldt University of Berlin and the Urania Berlin respectively. In 2014, I launched Research Project Germany, a blog with English language articles about sex work regulations in Germany. The project is also on: Twitter | Facebook | Vimeo | Mixcloud | YouTube.
On March 3rd, 2016, coinciding with the International Sex Workers’ Day, I launched SWAT – Sex Workers + Allies Translate, Edit + Design together with Katherine Koster from SWOP-USA. [I am currently updating this section. For the time being, please click here + here to learn more.] Although I have since relocated to Korea once again, I continue to collaborate with ICRSE and occasionally assist with copy-editing briefing papers and reports.
Self-portrait, National Media Museum, Bradford, UK. All Rights Reserved.
For different lengths of time I have resisted technical innovations, but eventually, I had to adapt to smartphones, digital cinema, social networking sites and the like.
I have also resisted to use my photography for anything other than pleasure and never referred to myself as photographer. As I began to use my photos for publications in the non-profit sector, and amid growing calls from my family, friends, and colleagues, I finally began began publishing a selection of my best photos.
A friend of mine once said, I should use a microscope instead of a camera, and it’s true that I enjoy taking close-ups, showing details of everyday life. I particularly enjoy taking photos of old shop signs or neon lights, unusual products or foods, and of plants and animals. My first publication was the 2011 photo calendar for Baan Doi, one of the NGOs I worked for in Thailand. It featured images of children in the Golden Triangle. Other photographs of mine have been used in Open Democracy’s publication “Sex Workers Speak: Who Listens?” and in a programme by the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast.
I am shooting with a Fuji FinePix S6500fd, a fine allrounder Fuji released in 2006, and a Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017). In the near future, I hope to swap the Fuji for a Canon 700D.