A photograph that made me think – Falkland Road 11/76 Mary Ellen Mark

The unconventional composition of this photograph implies a furtive glimpse behind the curtains, which are brightly coloured and better suited to a nursery than a brothel. The girl looks healthy, pretty, relaxed and almost playful – even innocent. We can only see the man’s hand. It rests on or perhaps plays with her mouth. The gesture indicates possession – in a different context it could suggest affection.

This photograph is part of Mark’s book Falkland Road about the brothels of Mumbai. As a standalone image it would not even be obvious that the relationship portrayed is of a prostitute and her client.

Did the relaxed and almost tender mood that we are witnessing persist after the shutter closed? The girl clearly knows that she is being photographed. Even if she had no real choice in this, her expression seems natural and unforced. In this particular image, the man is not identifiable, but presumably he is aware of the photographer’s presence.

Mark must have built up a strong relationship and a great deal of trust with the brothel keepers, the girls and their clients.

This is a very strong and memorable photograph which, for me, asks more questions than it answers.

Sarah Robbins

L1 Photography, University of the West of England


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