When I first flew to the Philippines in 2012 I was disgusted by white-male tourists in an immigration line, who gave themselves tips on where they could have the cheapest sex in the Philippines and what they could do with women in that country. Two years later I returned with my colleague and partner Insa Hagemann to cover a story about the effects of sex-tourism in the Philippines. That story, which won highly prestigious photo awards such as the UNICEF Photo of the Year, drew international attention to the topic and is a perfect example for why I became a photojournalist.
Buoyed by cheap airline tickets, the Philippines have become a popular destination for sex-tourists. Here travelers from Europe, Australia and the United States care little about what happens after they leave: thousands of children fathered by sex tourists grow up in a country, where there is almost no perceived immigration. Children with fair skin, blue eyes or blond hair seem like strangers in their own country. They grow up with the stigma that their father was a sex-tourist, no matter if their mother worked or works as a prostitute or not. While they experience marginalization and insults, they often spend a lifetime searching for their own identity. Most of them live without a chance to get to know their fathers, who have homes beyond reach in another far away world.
Officially prostitution is forbidden, especially in rural, predominantly Catholic areas Prostitutes are often ostracized. However in Angeles City the sex business is booming. “An ugly city that has nothing to offer except sex,” men write in internet forums. On Fields Avenue alone, bars sprawl over a length of two kilometers. In one bar, one thousand women work in three shifts, 24 hours a day.
Sex tourists do not pay for sex in the Philippines. The bars where the women work are not brothels. The suitors pay the bar owner a compensation so that they are allowed to take the women with them. Not infrequently, they take the “bargirls” for several days, sometimes for their entire holiday. The girls cook for him, wash his clothes and have sex with him, often without a condom. Just four years ago, the legal prohibition on contraceptives was lifted.
In April 2014, Insa and I were in the Philippines for one month and met children who spoke to us about the influence sex tourism has on their lives. Some of the boys and girls were very open from the start, with others we had to gain their trust little by little.
The children talked with us about their dreams and let us partake in their lives with our camera. It was always important to us that the children themselves decided to spend time with us. Back then we used the FUJIFILM X-T1 for our first shots. The ability to take photos with a silent shoot and the smallness of booth, camera and lenses, made the start easier. We did not disturb children and mothers. Through the days the children gained more and more trust in us and we were able to take pictures of their everyday life. Most of the pictures were shot with our beloved FUJINON XF23mmF1.4, but we used the XF35mmF1.4 and the XF18mmF2 as well.
Our goal was to pass on these experiences and impressions. That is what photojournalists can and should do. We wrote a book about the children we met and published the story in several magazines and newspapers, such as “Chrismon” in Germany and “6mois” in France. The aim of our trip was to draw attention to the fate of these children. We as a society carry the responsibility for this earth and what transpires upon it. We are not allowed to turn a blind eye.
About the “Wanna Have Love?!” Project
This was a collaborative project of Insa Hagemann and Stefan Finger and was awarded several times.
- UNICEF photo of the year 2014
- Winner “Schoemberger Fotoherbst 2015”
- Nominated “_Alfred Fried Photo Award
- Nominated “Kolga Award 2015”
- Nominated “Festival’s Circle of Life 2016”