Brent Stirton: Ukraine, Sex Work and Drugs in Photos

I decided to spend this evening flicking through one of my best Christmas presents of last year, the World Press Photo of the Year 2011 book. It contains some of the most political and devastating photography of our time: the Japanese tsunami, war in Libya and the Egyptian Revolution—but one page made me stop, and I haven’t turned the page since. It was this photograph, taken by world press award winner, Brent Stirton:


The caption read: “Maria a drug addicted sex worker, rests between clients in the room she rents in Kyvyi Rih, Ukraine. The country has the highest incidence of HIV/Aids in Europe, and according to a UNICEF report, one in five sex workers is living with HIV. Maria says she remains HIV negative.”

I was not paralysed by ‘Maria’ for its shock value—I felt drawn to Maria—the woman who sits seductively before the camera, even with bruised legs, dirty skin and faded underwear. She wears an azure blue necklace and stares at the camera with equally vivid eyes. It’s as if she is egoless. The antithesis of our ideas of femininity and glamour—but she doesn’t break her gaze—she’s unashamed. Maria’s eyes are certain and tangible, they appear to give off a longevity that deceives her sick and drug stricken body.

As the photographer stated in an article in New York Daily News, “I think there’s quite a lot in this photograph,” said Stirton. “There’s human dignity, there’s frailty and there are consequences.” After looking at ‘Maria’ I found more work by Brent Stirton on his website:


The series Aids, Drugs and Uncertainty: Ukraine features Maria and other devastating and disturbing images from Ukraine. Clearly the most powerful collection of photojournalism I have seen.  

Read more:

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