I ran into the photographs of Mio Cade on Flickr, a project he calls “Muay Thai’s Honour” and which he ethically relates to the problems of young, male prostitution in Thailand. The way that Mio Cade sees Muay Thai is that, despite whatever flaws it has socially, among the less advantaged it provides what is missing for Thai boys who may choose a life of male prostitution: namely, dignity and honor. His photographic project is one focused on capturing the boys training at this urban Bangkok gym.
Having lived and trained in Thailand for almost 4 years now, I have to say that much of the emotion Mio photographs is very familiar to me; moments that I’ve witnessed almost daily in those I’ve trained with, albeit in different circumstances. But despite their “everyday-ness”, what he captures is so potent in expressing these kids, their realities, and the hard, soft, dingy, hot, and glittering moments, its amazing:
a short video slide show, above
Double click any photo for larger size, or just go to the Flicker album below:
His original album “Muay Thai Honour” can be found on Flickr here, where he writes about his project:
Ongoing Project – Honour (Muay Thai kids) – Bangkok, Thailand
When famous photographer Ohm Phanphiroj presented his documentary series on UNDERAGE – a documentary about underage male prostitutes in Thailand who are being exploited by pedophiles, locally and from abroad. My immediate reaction was oh gosh! How could I help these kids. As a social worker and working with children and youth for almost 20 years, I know I can’t help them if there is no substitution of their current devastating circumstances. I did some research for few months and realized that underage kids were forced into prostitution because of poverty and the lacking of attention. Some of them were separated from their parents or runaway kids. Some of them even thinking that it was fun and why not got pay from having the fun. My hypothesis is that honour and dignity are some elements that are missing in their lives. I hope that Muay Thai could give them what they need, and help to transform them from within. So, I am researching and documenting why young kids from poor, middle and rich income families taking part in the National sport. Some are quick to judge that the sport as cruel and exploitative. But after observing for sometimes all I see is about HONOUR. I am still in the early stage of doing the research. I do not have the fund to support myself on this. So, I am doing one thing at a time by first documenting the Muay Thai kids during training sessions. Next, I will cover their fight in the rings and lastly their social status in the community, families and schools. It is not an easy project as much has been covered about Muay Thai kids – mostly ugly. But I rather see from my own eyes and walk through with them for a long period before I can conclude.
The Male Prostitution Documentary Series: Underage
The impetus of Mio Cade’s project was a personal response to Ohm Phanphiroj documentary series UNDERAGE, which seemed to be a photographic series but here is a 7 minute video documentary expression of the subject in part by Ohm Phanphiroj:
Muay Thai, Dignity and the Exploitation of Children’s Bodies
My thoughts are not front and center here, but to offer up my personal feelings having trained and fought in a variety of circumstances all over Thailand: The subject of this documentary and the adjoining project is a difficult one. It’s heart-wrenching to see children whose reality is so harsh; whose choices are so limited and limiting (video above). Poverty produces very difficult lives and these kids come out of the same struggle, and their choices are borne out of the same needs that many young Nakmuay come from. Those who criticize child-fighting in Thailand have made the comparison to prostitution, both in a hyperbolized comparison of children’s bodies being exploited for money and also in a fantastical idea that girls (female fighters) are regularly making a “stop-over” as fighters on their inevitable route toward the brothels of Bangkok. I appreciate that exploitation is comparable to exploitation in an ethical equation, but I think that Mio Cade’s juxtaposition is much more attuned to the practical contrast between children selling their bodies for sex and children committing their bodies to the gamblers, ringside. The kids who are interviewed in the above “Underage” documentary do exhibit dignity, perhaps most striking in the 11-year-old tough kid but certainly most impressive in the older boy, Bank, who has a quiet and resolved dignity with 2+ years already in the business (compared to the 11-year-old’s 2 days). That dignity is beautiful because it is strong in spite of the vulnerability and exploitation these kids face. This is a dignity largely in defiance or reserve; it culturally is lacking the honor that young Nakmuay can carry. You expect dignity out of the fighters who train and fight for it, whereas it’s a relief to find it among the prostitutes. Maybe this partly due to the relative isolation of male prostitution on the streets versus the community of Muay (something each project emphasizes aesthetically). Neither is simple and both can be borne out of need; and maybe that’s the difficulty in the comparison that makes them impossible to fully separate.
If you’d like to support this photography Mio Cade does sell high quality prints – contact him on Facebook . He is due for an exhibition in Singapore this Spring (2016), to help raise funds to support children in need.
Mio Cade has a Social Causes Facebook Page: Empowering Lives Asia