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Story: Bonnie
November 17, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

(NSFW) In a small village in Sealand Bonnie owns a house, where she works everyday from 9 to 4. When her day is over, she picks up her kids and drives home to her real house in another nearby village. The winner of the 67th Annual College Photographer of the Year Award.
posted by the young rope-rider (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I feel like there should be something more profound to say about that than "that was sad," but as all the details tumbled out ("oh, and her parents took her to bars instead of school, and her father went to prison for murder...") but damn, that was sad.

And I wonder how the photographer approached the john in the second-to-last photo about setting up that shot and/or signing a release.
posted by psoas at 7:10 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only person here who thought this was going to be a story about the offshore platform of Sealand forming a couple of little villages. The article I clicked on though is pretty compelling.
posted by crapmatic at 7:11 AM on November 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


cpoy.org is down for me.
posted by fatbird at 7:35 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Try reloading. It didn't work for me the first time I clicked but reloading worked.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:37 AM on November 17, 2012


The series feels clumsily manipulative. The captions are horribly written. The message they convey, of how awful Bonnie's life is, even in country where prostitution is legal, comes across as essentially a puritan worldview.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is in Zealand, which is in Denmark
posted by Blasdelb at 7:42 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]



The series feels clumsily manipulative.


I had a similar reaction. There seemed like a more complicated story to be told. I guess I'm glad they tried, but this wasn't it.
posted by Forktine at 7:47 AM on November 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I found the bathing bucket photo creepy. It seems weird on its own, but when intertwined with photos of sex, it gets really creepy.
posted by gjc at 8:01 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the clumsiness could be the translation from the Danish? Such a sad story, I hope Oliver gets himself sorted out at the boarding school.
posted by arcticseal at 8:02 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Site's not loading for me either.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sad and makes me feel slightly ill. I think if she can afford to send her kid to school on a boat in the Carribean then she can probably work on transitioning out of the sex industry. Sorry if that is judgmental but it sounds like she went into it due to a lack of options and staying in it has caused problems for her own children. Yes the captions are badly written too but I assume that is a translation thing.
posted by bquarters at 8:06 AM on November 17, 2012


At a guess, that kind of boarding school is something the Danish social services would supply.
posted by alloneword at 8:15 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think if she can afford to send her kid to school on a boat in the Carribean then she can probably work on transitioning out of the sex industry.

Sorry, but you are being judgmental based on a tiny set of data. I think there's probably much more to her life than I could gather from a few captions and some photos, so I think I might avoid telling her how to live it.

Interesting set of photos providing a glimpse into one person's career in the sex industry.
posted by dazed_one at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


Link isn't working but I can get to the main site. Can you at least give us the category and photographer so I can find it there?
posted by availablelight at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2012


She has beautiful dead eyes, pools of pale blue, it looks like she's gone somewhere else in her head. I'm not sure I'll ever understand how someone can have sex when they don't want it, perhaps it has something to do with how I generally see sex as an extension of affection.
posted by redindiaink at 8:54 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


availablelight: it's under Documentary, photographer is Marie Hald, title of series is Bonnie.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:57 AM on November 17, 2012


Here is the series on the photographer's own site, with more photos (nsfw).

she can probably work on transitioning out of the sex industry.

One of the captions on the original site says, "Since prostitution is legal in Denmark, Bonnie pays taxes and is registered as a business. However she has an old sentence for fraud and has been to prison a couple of times"

I suppose that wherever you live, it's not easy for a single mother of three from an abusive background with a criminal record to make a living for a family, especially one that allows her to schedule her own time so that she can take care of her kids.
posted by taz at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2012 [24 favorites]


I suppose that wherever you live, it's not easy for a single mother of three from an abusive background with a criminal record to make a living for a family, especially one that allows her to schedule her own time so that she can take care of her kids.

Plus the visible tattoos as well.

It's an interesting thing with the kids being teased and bullied -- you can legalize something, but that doesn't remove the stigmatization.
posted by Forktine at 9:19 AM on November 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's a hard, sad looking 37, especially for a first world country with decent health care.
posted by availablelight at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


availablelight, that looks like the effects of long-term heroin use to my eyes. Bonnie is about my age, but she looks 15 or 20 years older.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The version without (as many) heavy-handed captions on the photog's site is definitely better. The frustration I almost always have about these photo-essays is that the photos give me a glimpse into a person's life, and they make me want to listen to what that person has to say, about her/his life, herself/himself, or just whatever.

But if there's a voice at all, it's usually a weird third-person limited omniscient narrative thingie that purports to present the subject's point of view. But if it does reflect something the person actually said, it's probably not something said about this photo or while looking at this photo. Instead, I get the sense that the photographer decides to pair the photo with a paraphrase of something the person said. Like you've got a stack of photos and a stack of notes you've made about the subject and your observations of them, and you try to match them like "Which shirt goes with which pair of pants?" (Which is probably just my completely wrong, insane idea of how photojournalists work.) And sometimes the captions will seem like total non sequiturs or like a detail in Photograph B seems to totally contradict the sentiment expressed in Caption G.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:12 AM on November 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is that something Danish mothers do? Bathe with their 6 year old children? Because I know different societies have different rules for nudity inside the home but it doesn't even look comfortable-- they look squeezed together in that bucket.

I would say that the photograph with the greatest impact for me was the one in church. She looks like a specter, a death's head looming over all the other normal people. It isn't that she is a sex worker--- for all I know other people in that picture are sex workers-- but rather her tall, gaunt, figure with the blackened skin and the hair. She is truly nightmarish looking and the photograph could easily be an album cover for a Death Metal band.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:19 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My personal stereotype/judgment lens on these photos was being surprised at seeing her house - because I wouldn't have expected someone who looks so rough to be living in houses with such a clean IKEA-esque aesthetic - and examining my own assumptions there.
posted by flex at 10:51 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the captions says she has no self esteem. In my experience the biggest hurdle for poor people, or people from "lower" classes, getting into the workplace is feeling like an outsider, constantly feeling judged, and feeling unworthy of opportunities that are literally right in front of them.

It's not something that one can overcome by putting on a suit or taking a class at night school. The caste system is alive and well, but you usually only see it when you're looking up. Her kids are obviously very familiar with it.
posted by klanawa at 11:09 AM on November 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


I thought this was a straightforward photo essay, like a story on what it's like to be a policeman or a firefighter, but here instead about the life of a sexworker / mom. I also think she doesn't look old, but very much "other" - deeply tanned in a very white culture, heavily tattooed, hair done differently from the other people we see in the pictures, natural eyebrows completely gone ...

I'm not coming down on her look, but instead noting she visually stands apart in these photos and her look is tied to cultural assumptions (in my culture and I suspect hers) about her life and her economic and social class.

I suspect that if these elements weren't present, or if they suggested a different economic and social class, we might not wonder about her age or whether she used drugs, but it's the impression of aging that encapsulates the feeling of "she's had a hard life."
posted by zippy at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Either there is more to her story, and sexual abuse in her childhood would not be a total surprise, or she made a long string of bad choices, not excluding the choice of having three children.
posted by francesca too at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2012


It seems sad, yes. The need to do something you'd rather not be doing to survive is sad.

But as sad as she is Bonnie owns two houses, does not seem to worry about hunger or paying for things, and obviously has access to health care. She is not harassed by cops or under the thumb of a pimp or in danger of having her kids taken from her because of her career. She can pick her clientele and, presumably, if any of them abuse her she can depend on the cops to come to her defense.

You know what's also sad? Standing at a fillet table for eight hours a day filleting catfish, or cutting the breasts off of newly dead chickens on a cone line, or loading product into an indexer to be fed to sorting machinery, all day every day, in a uniformly cold wet humid windowless and occasionally dangerous factory. It's sad to go home from that job and wonder if it would be better to pay the rent or the car insurance, and to pray you and your kids don't get sick because you can't afford a doctor much less a boarding school for the kids who have the apartment to themselves while they wait for you to get home after school. It's sad being one of an anonymous throng of hundreds of people who walk through the same doors you do, eat in the same cafeteria, dress in the same uniform of latex and hair nets, and to know you will probably be doing the same sad things in thirty years.

Bonnie has made a niche for herself in a world where people like herself are very often discarded or wrung dry. And I think she knows this.
posted by localroger at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2012 [42 favorites]


localroger is right but I think this is way sadder than just a shit job. This is surviving by selling bits of your soul. She's trying to do right by her kids but I don't think it will go well.
posted by shoesietart at 3:19 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's hard to say just how sad Bonnie is. In addition to the general lack of information there is a vocabulary of photography, and much of Bonnie's harsh appearance in the photo essay (especially with the context of the extended set at mariehald.dk) is due to the use of harsh lighting, no or wrong makeup, and awkward unflattering poses.

One impression that comes through to me is that in a more USian environment Bonnie might have been a Goth or cosplayer. Some people are positively attracted to the idea of darkness. (A long time ago I met a New Orleans resident who was 28 going on 15 and styled herself the "bride of Death." Interesting shop she ran.) Bonnie's eye makeup, which I strongly suspect is down to her and not the photographer, suggests that she is courting the concept that she is selling her soul by the slice. The comment that she "has no self esteem" -- Really? None at all? Why does she get up in the morning for the three kids, two houses, and one substantially successful business?

One thing that is certainly true of Bonnie, whatever else might be, is that she has a degree of freedom few of us manage to realize. She is her own boss with her own legal business, her own place of business, and she can make her own schedule and set her own standards. The darkness in her life now is her own and she seems to own it, which is reasonable. She doesn't seem interested in projecting an Annie Sprinkle vibe and the tattoos and flirtations with criminality might be more experiments in a dark direction.

But if you showed this to the ladies who work at the catfish plant I promise you a lot of them would be willing to trade places with her in a heartbeat without reading the fine print on the contract. And Bonnie probably isn't interested in exchanging her profitable and fashionable sad for a smock, hair net, and fillet knife.
posted by localroger at 4:39 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


availablelight: "That's a hard, sad looking 37, especially for a first world country with decent health care."

Wow, yeah. Without any context and just looking at her face, I would have guessed mid-fifties at least. I know sixty year olds who look younger. Scary.
posted by octothorpe at 4:43 PM on November 17, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy: Is that something Danish mothers do? Bathe with their 6 year old children?
If her water is turned off, this would be the best way to bathe - a small tub she can handfill.

Don't know if it is, but that's my first impression.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:12 PM on November 17, 2012


Looks more like she has a big walk in shower and no tub. I didn't get the impression her financial situation was such that she would not have utilities.

Thanks for linking these, they're powerful.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those wondering about the washing tub, consider that a tile shower and no bathtub is a common feature of Nordic homes. I stayed with relatives in Finland who have a sauna and two showers, but no bathtub.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:33 PM on November 17, 2012


True, @#$%, but I have might as well have a shower with no tub, and yet don't resort to big-bucket-baths.

If she is a heroin junkie, as some have suggested, it's hard to say what bills she has paid, despite her surroundings. In a nutshell - who knows? At most, she's no Ashley Alexandra Dupre, cavorting on yachts with titans of government. At least... a desperate junkie mother surviving the best she can in a horribly uncaring world.

EDIT:
localroger: Bonnie owns two houses
Missed that point. OK, I doubt her water is turned off... but it's not impossible.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:03 PM on November 17, 2012


Looks more like she has a big walk in shower and no tub.

This is a thing. My parents ripped out the bathtub in the NOLA East house where I grew up when they refitted it for their greying years, and when they sold that house and built a new one in Mississippi (fortunately before Katrina) that beautiful new house had no bathtub either.

I met the folks who ended up owning the NOLA house through Katrina and when I met them they asked me why it didn't have a bathtub. I was able to enlighten them. But they were putting in a bathtub.

I can easily imagine a culture where tubs simply aren't the thing and if you want to take a tub bath, you have to supply the tub.
posted by localroger at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2012


From my US perspective, it is really sobering to see what shock poverty journalism looks like in a country with greater income equality and a social safety net. Without at all meaning to erase Bonnie's everyday struggles, I strongly suspect her kids have stabler, safer, healthier lives than the vast majority of poor American children.
posted by threeants at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


It might be worth mentioning that, if I have figured the dates right, prostitution wasn't legal in Denmark until Bonnie was 24, and so presumably before that age she had to either do it illegally or pursue more financially marginal sources of income (perhaps thus the criminal convictions).
posted by localroger at 7:33 PM on November 17, 2012


One person's "cramped conditions" is another's "cuddling with my small child." I thought the picture of her bathing was really powerful because -- not to condemn what she does for a living -- it shows how incredibly different her whole affect is in a state of wanted intimacy.
posted by ostro at 10:30 PM on November 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


Is there an impulse to take her down a notch? Why dwell on how good she has it in Denmark? It's almost like we can't understand the ambivalence and unpleasantness of sex work unless it's buttressed with extreme poverty and street abuse. Or maybe we can't understand poverty and class unless they conform to our material expectations.

But if you showed this to the ladies who work at the catfish plant I promise you a lot of them would be willing to trade places with her in a heartbeat without reading the fine print on the contract.

I know a lot of ladies who work in places like catfish plants and butter factories and on garbage trucks and I don't think any of them would miss the fine print, because Bonnie's lifestyle is not so rare even in the US. I grew up in poverty and there were plenty of women who found ways to achieve that kind of freedom, patching together a lifestyle out of occasional work and public assistance-- a lot of poor people end up living strangely liberated lives that look like an improvement from wage slavery (and perhaps are) but are still weighted by poverty. This is part of what makes class so invisible; you can work for yourself in a situation like this and still feel like you're not in control, that you'll never make a wild move and break out of the cycle. You're your own boss, but your job is still selling your body (whether for labor or for sex). There's rarely a sense of forward-moving or progress or momentum, no promotion or professional milestone or ceremony as your life moves forward, you just live. You look forward to family and grandchildren, but a palpable depression (as natural as cigarette smoke) hangs over everyone and everything. It's the same for the factory workers and the Wal-Mart associates and most poor people I know. I hate to over-dramatize prostitution and sex work by taking up the "selling one's soul" metaphor, but it's really quite Faustian, in the sense that you become shut off and inured to things that used to feel crushing and off-limits and you can never really go back. I've always felt that as a poor kid I lost a certain innocence that belonged to other kids with a cushion underneath them. I got used to things like selling one's body and forgot what (to most people) intimacy looks like. I never knew what professional respect meant. People took pride in their work ethic but work never gave them anything but survival.

She does have beautiful eyes, and the photo of her with her son is gorgeous, I agree with ostro. By the way, I know and am related to quite a few women who look very much like this and they're not street whores or mistaken for street whores. Most of them have done some drugs, but they never seem very worried about how they look; it's like they've broken a barrier and know that men will still find them desirable, they will still have the same life they've always had. It just is.

One of the captions says she has no self esteem. In my experience the biggest hurdle for poor people, or people from "lower" classes, getting into the workplace is feeling like an outsider, constantly feeling judged, and feeling unworthy of opportunities that are literally right in front of them.

It's not something that one can overcome by putting on a suit or taking a class at night school. The caste system is alive and well, but you usually only see it when you're looking up. Her kids are obviously very familiar with it.

This is so true. I also think the series Weeds, even though it's about a family of privilege, does a really excellent job of showing how mothers in trouble make ends meet and how their sense of normal and their standards and goals for their family change with time. People are horrified to hear how my parents accept things that my siblings choose to do, but when you've lived in certain circumstances, you learn how to survive, and you know it's not the end of the world, people are still people, even if they're giving up on "something better." You hope your kids don't end up "like you" but you don't know how to model anything outside of the cycle and all you know is that if they end up where you are you can try to make things better for them.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:20 AM on November 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Is that something Danish mothers do? Bathe with their 6 year old children? Because I know different societies have different rules for nudity inside the home but it doesn't even look comfortable-- they look squeezed together in that bucket.

Well not necessarily in those sorts of cramped conditions, and perhaps decreasingly so these days, but I'd still offer a qualified 'yes'. Communal bathing with young children is fairly common. Certainly rules for nudity inside the home are pretty different to the norms in the anglophone world.
posted by Dysk at 1:29 AM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, all the shots of the inside of her house, her with her kids, in the kitchen, etc, could easily have been of my family, if the faces were different. Not only is it not crushing poverty, it's the far upper end of lower-middle-class Denmark. Economically rather than culturally, that's at the very least firmly middle-middle, probably more like upper-middle.)
posted by Dysk at 1:37 AM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Derail deleted. We can do better in discussions of sex work than referring to people as "whores"; if you have any questions about this, contact us.]
posted by taz at 2:09 AM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's interesting, Dysk; I wondered what would be different about poverty and working in a stigmatized profession, in a country that has a much better social safety net than the US. This is what I find most interesting as I peruse the pictures.

Bonnie does look much older than her age (I'd peg her as in her late 50's!) and I've only ever seen that kind of premature aging among people who are heavy drug and/or alcohol users or hardcore tanners. It might be this, as much as her criminal record, that would keep her from finding a "day job." Most conventional jobs take a hard line on showing up drunk or high at work or missing days at work because of drugs or drink. It seems like Bonnie is her own boss, however unconventional her line of work is, so if she has to miss a day at work, she won't get "fired." Nor will her clients notice or care if she is drunk or high.

Now I am making assumptions and for all I know Bonnie is as clean as a whistle and sober as a judge. But it's hard not to suspect addiction when someone looks that old and worn.

At least she does have a social safety net to catch her when she is no longer able, for whatever reason, to keep on in her present job.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:59 AM on November 18, 2012


Here is the series on the photographer's own site, with more photos (nsfw).

I think this series is much better and much more powerful than the version in the FPP, especially due to the general lack of captions.

That said, I'd like some context for the photo of her vacuuming in the nude; is that her work house, thus she didn't bother to put clothing on, or is that the house where she lives? If it's the latter, why is she nude? Just because?
posted by asnider at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The captions are horribly written.

I kept being thrown by the references to 'girlfriend' and thought she was a gay woman who slept with men for money, which somehow seemed sadder.
posted by mippy at 3:40 AM on November 19, 2012


I kept being thrown by the references to 'girlfriend'

This will almost certainly be a translation issue - Danish has separate words for 'male friend' and 'female friend' (with the former rapidly coming to mean just 'friend', but that's an entirely different discussion!) and I could totally see 'veninde' getting translated as 'girlfriend' for lack of a better term in English (and not wanting to discard the gender-specificity, despite convention in English being to do just that).
posted by Dysk at 3:44 AM on November 19, 2012


I wondered that, though upper-middle class women in the UK tend to refer to their female friends as 'girlfriends', whereas if someone I knew did I would assume they were referring to romantic partners.
posted by mippy at 6:31 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


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