Modern Magdalene #1 – Red Light District, Amsterdam – Somewhere In Time Weekly Photo.

By Posted in - Europe & Photo Journal & Somewhere In Time on March 1st, 2012


Somewhere In Time is a weekly photo from around the world. Enjoy!

Somewhere In Time Is Back!

This used to be a weekly ongoing series but with all the craziness that occurred over the summer I ran out of my stash of ready photos, then with all the traveling that occurred in the fall I was unable to catch up, never mind get ahead. I put quite a bit of time into selecting my photos for this series so it’s taken me quite a while to get some edited and ready to roll but here we are the first of SIT photo of the year. Yah! If you’re new to this blog be sure to check out the line up of last year’s Somewhere In Time photos.

This photo that is part of an upcoming photo essay on the Red Light District in Amsterdam which hopefully we’ll be out in a couple of weeks. It was extremely tough getting the shots for this essay since it is highly frowned upon to take photos in the Red Light District and it was very dark but I prevailed!

This one is my favorite of the bunch. In fact, I LOVE this photo. It just might be my new favorite which is why I decided it should have top billing and be the first to announce the comeback of the Somewhere In Time series.

I feel slightly crass in saying this but the best part of Amsterdam was this illicit section of town. It was beautiful in all the sad, cunning and melancholic ways that happen when you have women selling themselves for money in window fronts. The girls were all beautiful and seemed somewhere on the cusp of something โ€“ maybe hope? One foot still lies in the possibility of a normal life while the other is dragged by cheap sex, debts owed & g-strings. I look at this girl and canโ€™t help but think about her life when she isnโ€™t bathed in the red light. Is she happy? Is she sad? Is her cup half empty or half full? Does she knit? What is life like being on the other side of that glass?

Her expression is terribly forlorn, her eyes are hollow and empty. She’s a lover and a fighter and she’s completely anonymous. She could be anyone – in another life any of us could be her.

There is something about the way she is standing with one hand on the doorknob and the other gracing the window that speaks to me. Torn between two worlds. Her right hand lets the customer in and her left hand, resting in a seemingly simple gesture, carries hope. It looks like she hasn’t completely given in yet. Somewhere in her there is a hidden & humble longing that is innate to all girls living on the edge. It belongs to her, she owns it and it might be all she has left.

Somewhere in there she is still alive, her mind thinking, her heart racing & pulsing the brilliant red blood throughout her body – just like the red light that engulfs her.

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(24) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Miruna -

    March 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    That’s a great photo, very expressive ! I enjoyed RLD a couple of years ago when I was there.

    • Bethany -

      March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks Miruna – I’m glad you liked it. ๐Ÿ™‚ @Miruna,

  • Leigh -

    March 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    An amazing photo but cannot imagine the wretched life these girls lead.

    • Bethany -

      March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      Yeah it is really hard to imagine. I try to hope there is some ray of light in their life. Many of them are really young and very attractive – out of that life they could do anything and be anyone. @Leigh,

  • Italian Notes -

    March 2, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Thos laydies are always fascinating. In a sad kind of way.

  • Guy -

    March 2, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Be careful about the assumptions you make. Remember this is a real person you’re speculating about – one who thought her display was private from photographers.

    • Bethany -

      March 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s true, one never knows really what is going on and I’m glad you made that point. Maybe she wants to be there? Who knows? It’s possible. As for the privacy issue, I think when you put yourself on display half naked in a red lit room as thousands of people passing by then privacy is not really an issue for you. I just find this a really interesting aspect of life and I can’t help speculating about the women who do this. What I would really love is to meet some of them and photograph them behind the scenes – their everyday lives out of the windows. But I was in Amsterdam for 3 days and didn’t have time to organize anything like that. @Guy,

      • Guy -

        March 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

        Regarding privacy, that may be true in the United States, where the expectation of privacy does not extend to the sidewalk, but things are different in Amsterdam’s red light district.

        You yourself acknowledged that photography is forbidden. That prohibition creates an expectation of privacy that you violated with this post.

        Ok, fine, you’re breaking the rules, pushing the limits, being edgy, but why?

        You’re not telling a story – we know nothing about this woman’s life.

        So the point is to provoke some thoughts and ask some questions. I can go along with that but I find it distasteful to have the discussion steered towards the negative. You present a dichotomy of normal life and cheap sex/debt/g-strings.

        You neglect the very possibility that to her, this is normal life. That you only had a few days in Amsterdam doesn’t really excuse you.

        If we are to know nothing of her story, can we at least keep our speculation neutral and beware the sensationalism?

        • Bethany -

          March 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm

          I appreciate your take on this. However this is far from sensationalism. It’s a photo of a slice of life in Amsterdam, the write up is my idea of it. This is how my brain works, I’m not sensationalizing her life I’m wondering about it – these are my thoughts, plain & simple.

          I’m trying to imagine what it is like to be in her shoes and if I were her I wouldn’t be overly happy about it. Of course, she might be – it’s always possible she’s thrilled trading her body and being treated as an object. She could be the most positive person on the planet.

          I’m sure if you walk into a strip club you’ll find plenty of women swear up and down to you that they love their jobs. They might even convince themselves that they do but I guarantee all those girls have deep psychological issues that led them there in the first place. I actually have had quite a few strippers as good friends and I can personally attest to that. Anyone who tells you they love this life is lying to you. If you don’t believe me, go hang out in the woman’s bathroom in a strip club and you’ll see the insecurities and sadness come piling out. It’s real & it hurts no matter how good they are at lying to you.

          I’m not being edgy – I’m doing my job as a photographer – shooting things as I see them and as they happen around me. I wonder consistently about a lot of the people in my photos and I wonder what their lives are like. However I wonder the same thing about people driving down the highway in cars different than mine. I guess it’s how my imagination works.

          I guess what I’m wondering is why are you so persistent that she is so happy with this life? Why are you so against my thoughts? My thoughts are above as you have read and I even wondered if she felt her glass was half empty or half full. I don’t know so I can only give my own perspective.

          And yes there is a dichotomy of normal life and cheap sex from my perspective. She has cheap sex for money and I’m pretty sure she still has to hit up the grocery store for her bread and milk and perform other mundane tasks associated with daily life. I’m not saying that her life isn’t normal life to her, it may very well be completely normal and all she has known. This is my perspective from the other side of the window wondering about life. It is speculation yes, my speculation but it is not sensationalism.


          • Guy -

            March 3, 2012 at 12:02 am


            I have two issues with what you’ve done. First, the photo.

            Taking the photograph was ethically questionable given that you know these women do not wish to be photographed. I can overlook that, however. Given the right motivation, I might have done it myself, though I chose to leave my cameras behind on my own travels through these neighborhoods.

            Publishing the photograph was wrong. This woman chose to make herself vulnerable to passers-by, for her own purposes. You chose to make her vulnerable to the world, for your purposes. Given that you’ve made no effort to uncover her story or provide any redeeming social value, I can’t really condone this.

            The second issue I have is with the sensational speculation of her life in both the article and the comments above.

            You can’t use the “but some of my best friends are black” defense here. Your thoughts on strippers and their collective happiness is irrelevant.

            There is no denying that describing her life with terms like “cheap sex”, “g-strings”, and and “wretched” IS sensational.

            The real question is, why? What am I suppose to take away from this article?

            I can only conclude that this is a post about your feelings on sex work and that you’re using this woman and the fictional life story you have implied in order spin your yarn.

            You’ve taken from her, against her will, for your own purposes and offered nothing back.

            You describe yourselves as professional journalists and photographers. Do you see a difference between what you’ve done here and publishing this article in a newspaper or magazine?

            p.s. I have no idea how happy or unhappy this woman or her colleagues are so I’m certainly not being persistent about promoting either view.

          • Bethany -

            March 3, 2012 at 7:44 am

            First off I would like to know why you think you are the judge & jury. Why are you right and I am wrong?

            1. Taking and publishing the photo was not wrong. It’s a street photo. Given this argument you make no one should ever take street photos. Ever. This woman does make herself vulnerable to the world. You state that it’s just passerby’s – Amsterdam is one of the hot spots in Europe to travel to and a lot of that has to do with the RLD. I didn’t bring the world to her door, the world goes to her door every night in droves to watch her work her trade. I only captured a split second of her evening.

            Furthermore, do you really think the reason they don’t want photos taken is to protect the innocence & reputations of the girls? You don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that if people were taking photos all day and night that would mean a lot of men would shy away from the services. This is a business ploy not an ethical standard.

            2. This is a Somewhere In Time photo. Do your research and look at the other SIT photos on our blog – this is not a journalistic piece nor is it meant to be. It’s supposed to be emotive – that’s the entire idea of this series.

            3. Again, this isn’t sensationalism. These are my thoughts. It’s my site. Wow. Imagine that! Cheap Sex & G Strings are not sensational they are matter of fact. She has cheap sex (although some might argue it’s actually expensive) and the girls in this district wear G Strings – these are actually both facts. I never said anything about her life being wretched so please don’t put words in my mouth.

            4. I never stated anything about my feelings about sex work. I never judged her or her way of life, like you are obviously so good at doing about me. I WONDERED out loud about her life, not her work. I’ve taken nothing from her that she wasn’t giving. She looks sad – do you see that? What I wrote about her was what I took from how she looks. Because I do feel that sometimes it is the fleeting second in life that captures how someone truly feels. Maybe you actually missed the forlorn look on her face? And again, since it is my blog and my thoughts – yes my feelings on the collective happiness of strippers is relevant. My friends have shown me that this way of life is never truly chosen even if they say it is. It is the culmination of self worth issues built up over a lifetime. If anything I have love for this woman as she reminds me of a very good friend. I don’t have issues with what she does for work but it does make me sad when any woman thinks that this is the way she should validate her mind, body & soul. You’re a man, maybe you don’t get this? Or maybe you’ve just consoled yourself into thinking that it’s ok and a positive experience for the woman because of your own personal pleasures or experiences. I don’t really care what you do but I do care about the woman who faces the risk of STD, rape & beatings every day she goes to work.

            5. I am a professional photographer and Randy is a professional journalist. This is not a magazine or a newspaper and this photo isn’t (and has never claimed to be) a journalistic piece. We went to Amsterdam for 3 days, we worked almost all of that time online and one night we strolled through the red light district and I decided to take photos. I like to shoot street photos and emotions appeal to me – the RLD was flooded with both so yes, I took photos. End of story. It’s also extremely sad to me that in the case of what is in my opinion a sad slice of life you choose to focus on irrelevant minutia and bend it to meet your own personal views.

            6. You are persistent that I promote a different view. You don’t agree with what I’ve written or the photo I’ve taken and you want it changed to fit your needs. Isn’t that why you wrote in the first place?

  • Guy -

    March 3, 2012 at 8:21 am

    SInce I think you’re just taking this personally I’ll just skip to the point. Here are the things I’d have done differently.

    Aesthetic justification:
    You could have altered your composition a bit to make her less identifiable or perhaps not mentioned the location. You have to be respectful of the fact that you most certainly do not have her permission. Leaving aside the privacy issue, it is an intriguing image. I like the photograph but I’m not convinced you have a right to it.

    Moral justification:
    Alternatively, you could take the angle that uncovering this social issue justifies the breach of ethics in the same way an investigative journalist might do. In that case drop the fiction and report story. You could even link to something worthwhile that you want to promote. Do something beyond increase traffic to this page.

    • Bethany -

      March 3, 2012 at 10:05 am

      1. it’s a street photo taken from the hip. Again, I do not need her permission. Glad you appreciate the photo.
      2. I don’t need to morally justify anything to anyone. I’m wondering about her life. It really is that simple. This was not a planned shoot or a planned journalistic topic that we intended to cover. It happened on the fly. I did not put this photo up expressly to gain views but I guess you could say everything I put up here is to increase traffic to our site just as it is to increase our exposure so that makes this photo no different from any of my other photos or different from any of the photos you have on your site – or anyone else for that matter. When you put photos up it’s because you want people to see them right?
      3. I’m not promoting anything. I don’t know why you keep thinking that. These are my thoughts. Do I need to get permission for those too?

  • Guy -

    March 3, 2012 at 9:07 am

    “You don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that if people were taking photos all day and night that would mean a lot of men would shy away from the services.”

    Ok – good for you. Direct action is laudable. So tell me, were you openly shooting and shaming men away? Maybe organize a flash mob to photograph the johns. I could get behind that but be honest, that’s not what you were doing.

    • Bethany -

      March 3, 2012 at 10:10 am

      No, i was not openly shooting – obviously. It was shot from the hip. Again, it’s a street photo. My point was not to scare anyone away, my point was to capture what I saw. Try not to miss the point I made earlier – I’m saying it’s not frowned upon for their welfare but for the fact that business is business. My job is not to shame or judge anyone, I just recorded this small slice of life. I don’t need you to get behind anything I do and your thoughts will never influence how I shoot. I appreciate your comments but I’m not going to feel shamed or bad about taking street photos.

  • Guy -

    March 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Taking a street photo in the Red-Light District is not the same as taking one on an American street. There IS an expectation of privacy from photography on those streets. Everyone knows it.

    Many of those women lead normal lives outside their work and they deserve consideration for that.

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica -

    March 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Glad to see the series is coming back. It would be great if you could include details on the photo: lens, aperture, etc.

    • Bethany -

      March 5, 2012 at 6:20 am

      Hi Stephanie, Thanks for commenting. I have always shied away from technical data on this series (wanted to put that more in the How I Shoot Series) but maybe I will start to add some in. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Guy -

    March 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    “Iโ€™m wondering about her life. It really is that simple.”

    Oh I see. It’s not art, it’s not journalism, it’s just gawking at ill fortune.

  • Brooke vs. the World -

    March 3, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Wow, so much drama on this shot! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking the photo — the person is displaying themselves on the street for goodness sake. If she’s wanting privacy she should go in a private room, away from windows. Anyone can go and walk down those streets and see that first-hand — there’s no restrictions in that way ya know?

    • Bethany -

      March 5, 2012 at 6:20 am

      Thanks for your comment Brooke! I really appreciate your opinion on this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Guy -

    March 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    This is not like an American street. There IS a widely known and usually respected prohibition on photography here.

    Why can’t you acknowledge that she is simultaneously willing to bare herself to the street but unwilling to do so to the internet? This is the underlying premise of the prohibition on street photography in the red light district.

    I find it particularly distasteful given how easy it would have been to just knock on her door and talk to her.

    I find it especially distasteful given how the blog text and the comments to follow made such derogatory assumptions about our unwilling model.

    Let us assume for a moment that everything in the original post were true and that privacy / libel concerns were moot.

    What is the value in sneaking into her neighborhood with the finger on the shutter, firing off a hundred exposures, and posting the most interesting angle on her misery to the Internet? Not everything that happens in front of your camera is fair game for your photographic edification.

  • bar code lookup -

    March 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I agreed with Brooke vs. the World. Thank You!