A few years ago I went back to upstate New York and worked at a university where I taught a course on children and childhood. Early in the course I showed a series of slides, one of which was a picture of a girl prostitute in Taiwan sitting on a motorbike and smiling. The students were puzzled by this because, they said, they had always thought prostitution must be a sad and difficult way of life. ‘What makes you think it isn’t?’ I asked. Because she’s smiling, they replied. I spent the rest of the class — indeed, much of the rest of the course — trying to explain that photographic images — any images or representations, whether pictorial or written — are set up, constructed by someone, for someone with the intention of conveying a particular idea or impression. In whose interests was it, I suggested they consider, for her to be seen as smiling? We talked about the meaning of motorbikes and how they suggest speed, sexual excitement, youth, and how, as a means of transportation, they are cheap. Could those qualities also be applied to the girl? Where was the photo most apt to appear: in a soft porn magazine, a travel brochure or a family photograph album? Who, in other words, was looking at her through the camera and for what purpose?
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- 1.There was, however, protest about girls and women who worked underground in mines. See, for instance, Angela John’s (1980) By the Sweat of their Brow.Google Scholar