I've personally been involved with Restore NYC since 2008, when my friend Peter Ong and a few others helped to spearhead an effort for social justice awareness through Christian churches and non-faith-based organizations in NYC. Restore is a growing nonprofit dedicated to restoring freedom, safety and hope for foreign-born survivors of sex trafficking by providing long-term, holistic aftercare services .
In November 2011, I was excited to work with Restore once again, when they commissioned photographer Minnow Park and I to tackle the large task of capturing new images to accompany their new website launch and visual campaign to better reflect their ongoing mission. The shoot involved several weeks of model casting, scouting, and production, including covering spaces in the Restore safehouse, where clients were living and establishing themselves in a heallthy environment. Other scenes were shot in urban environments where the act of trafficking could potentially occur, implying thematic and geographical allegories to the issue. No actual victims/clients were used in the shoots.
It was definitely a challenge to stage, represent, and shoot these types of images, considering I shoot mostly weddings. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise in exploring a different type of portraiture, in an attempt to understand the emotional and physical catharsis of a survivor of sex trafficking. In the process of developing these photographs, I could not help but educate myself more on both the compounding problem, and the greater hope that is now accessible to a growing number of rescued victims each year. I learned a lot through this.
Production: Fay Sarjono, Faith Huckel, Savina Kim-Johnson, Minnow Park
Video: Gabe Leavell
B Camera, Long Island City Set: Edmond H Lee
Assistants/Grips: Norm Mui, Lance Villio, Evangel Fung, Justin Ong
Models: Melissa Smith, Katie Ostrowski, Theresa Leigh, Mia Santiago, Amanda Chapman