Strong Photos Capture the Sex Industry in Eastern Europe in FotoFest's "International Discoveries III"

Self harming scars on Clarisa's arms. She was sold for $800 by her best friend.
Self harming scars on Clarisa's arms. She was sold for $800 by her best friend.
Photos by Dana Popa; courtesy of FotoFest.

FotoFest's "International Discoveries" series always brings in interesting work, and this year is no exception.

The standout is Romanian photographer Dana Popa, whose home country is embroiled in the sex-trafficking industry. Popa's series not Natasha captures girls and women who have escaped, as well as the families that have been left behind. According to Popa, "Natasha" is the nickname given to Eastern European prostitutes, denying them any individuality and reducing them to interchangeable objects.

"My Husband-to-be sold me for $2,200..." -- Dalia, 20 years old.
"My Husband-to-be sold me for $2,200..." -- Dalia, 20 years old.

Popa's images manage to sensitively and empathetically capture the practice's human toll. There are women trafficked as 12-year-olds, mothers taken from their children, teenage daughters taken from their mothers. In one image a teenage girl holds up her missing mother's favorite dress. One shows only a girl's forearm, marked with lines of self-inflicted cuts.

Another is dominated by blurred wallpaper flowers and a floral bedspread, with only the top of a woman's head visible in the lower-right corner. She's cradling her head in her hands. A quote next to the image says, "My husband-to-be sold me for $2,200." Popa offers a heart-wrenching insight into a world born of poverty, cruelty and greed.

Through December 22. FotoFest Headquarters at Vine Street Studios, 1113 Vine Street, 713-223-5522.

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