We first met Ohm Phanphiroj for the release of his homoerotic photobook, Night Hawks (2007). Since then, he has pursued an increasingly bold artistic career, which has gone from unforgiving portraits of transsexuals to this, a series of portraits of underage male prostitutes titled The Streets of Broken Dreams.

Medium: Digital photography printed on acid-free archival paper.

How did you get started on this? A year and a half ago, I was walking around and I saw a lot of young girls. I saw a lot of Johns [clients], policemen directing the traffic... I was curious about the police, at first. I took pictures of the girls and it proved difficult. The girls wanted their pimp to accompany them, which I refused. The police would harass me for taking pictures. So I started to take pictures of the underage male prostitutes. There were less pimps to deal with, which was easier.

So you’re saying the police was actively trying to ensure these goings-on remained a dirty little secret?
The problem is the money being taken by the police. The police will collect all the boys and girls every day and fine them B200 and then let them go. 40-50 kids every night. That’s a lot of money.

Did you pay the boys?
They are all paid. None of them would do it for free. They treated me as a client. I would explain this was for an art project. They would be fine with it, because they need money for drugs or glue, or to send back to the family. I paid them between B100-500.

Is this pedophile porn?
The perception is always going to be there. If you look back at my career, I do commercial things. I am who I am. I like certain things. But when it comes to being serious in terms of art, I want to correct problems. To be honest, the reactions are mixed. A lot of people loved it and think it’s a deserving project. Then there was a group of people who came asking where to pick the boys up and how much they should pay them. I’m not going to answer that. So, yes, some people fantasize over the boys but most find the project powerful. It drives them to tears.

Has this exhibition created some kind of reaction to solve this?
It’s hard to find people who want to change the situation. The Bangkok Post did not want to run the pictures because of their journalistic etiquette. If you go out at Sukhumvit and Nana, you see 9-year-old girls getting picked up every night. Nothing has changed.

Did you control the light in any way, or have the models pose?
I have them pose without their shirts because I want the audience to be faced with the reality of who they are. I didn’t intend to glamorize, but I have been doing fashion for a long time and it came out like that. I want my work to be documentary, to be journalism. I print it life-sized, around 5-feet tall. I want to create a dialogue between the audience and the boy, the buyer and the seller.

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