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Paraphrasing the introduction to Domestic Slavery: The cold and stark photographs of ordinary-looking buildings in and around Paris by Raphael Dallaporta are combined with Ondine Millot’s texts to become chilling portraits of hidden agony. The texts describe what went on in these photographed buildings, confronting the viewer with stories of abuse and cruelty, forcing us to consider the idea that behind the façade of the ordinary can lie a discomforting reality. [...] Domestic Slavery bears witness to the banality of everyday inhumanity.
Some of the stories in Domestic Slavery are harrowing, and in some cases not least because the abusers are women, or a collection of individuals from the same extended family. These are tales of evil made normal.
From Domestic Slavery:
“For four years Violette slept without a mattress on the tiled kitchen floor of an apartment in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Her work timetable was carefully planned. In the morning, she got up at 4am to prepare breakfast for Sahondra, her employer, and her son; afterwards, she travelled into central Paris where, at 6am, she began work for a cleaning company run by Sahondra’s brother-in- law; at 10am she returned to Sahondra’s apartment where she did the housework and prepared lunch and dinner; at 4pm, she travelled to Massy-Palaiseau – about 20kms from Paris – where she cleaned the apartment of Mamy, Sahondra’s brother. When she returned to the 13th arrondissement around 10pm each day, there was more work: a pile of washing-up or ironing kept her busy until midnight, either at Sahondra’s or in her sister’s next-door apartment. For four years, during which time she was hardly fed, Violette worked 18 to 20 hours a day. She had left Madagascar aged 22 in the hope of earning enough money to feed her child, who she left behind. During the whole ordeal her four employers paid her nothing.”
“With the aid of the CCEM, the Committee Against Modern Slavery, she took her employers to court. Her case was heard in 1999 in Paris and it became the first-ever case of modern slavery dealt with in France under penal law. Her employers were ordered to pay Violette €22,900 in damages and interest; they were also fined and given suspended prison sentences.”
PHOTOGRAPHING SCENES OF UNLAWFUL ACTS
The type of sorrowful external view (long after the matter) employed by Dallaporta brought to mind Angela Strassheim‘s stake-out street shots of former crime-scenes for her series Evidence, of which I have written about previously. The two leave me feeling so differently however, I’d like to explore the reasons.
Both Dallaporta and Strassheim found their building-subjects due to information on public record following judicial process/trial. Neither photographer makes effort to show the architectures as extraordinary – because they are not. Yet, Dallaporta’s photography leaves me morose and confused about the human condition. I think it has something to do with closure – or lack of – in each of the projects.
Strassheim’s work leads the viewer through the crime. In the titles, she lists the weapons used. Strassheim shows us the traces of metals, that are traces of DNA, that are traces of blood, not only by being their but by using specialist forensic techniques. She literally reveals the marks of homicides.
Strassheim’s effort is two-fold in showing us the evidence but more crucially the conclusion of violence. It was bloody murder, but it was brief and it is over. Dallaporta’s works on the other hand don’t offer me an out. I am not mollified by the idea that this was a collection of one-off final acts. Often the buildings are only one of multiple sites of abuse.
I have no idea about the prevalence of domestic slavery in France, but I presume it is no different to other Western nations. If I need homicide figures I can find them, but if I want figures on illegal imprisonment and servitude I’m at a dead-end. Dallaporta’s work is an attack on our complacency.
In describing the bare details of each abuse, Dallaporta and Millot succeed in positioning domestic slavery as anywhere and everywhere; they present it as a national issue and as everyone’s problem. Domestic Slavery might just be the harshest indictment of absent community in our societies. Dallaporta’s work certainly plays on the unknown.
Inside of me, Domestic Slavery induces fear of the unknown. I can understand murder – it has been explained to me since I was a young child – but I do not understand modern slavery. Dallaporta’s work brings that to bear and, for me, that it is what makes Domestic Slavery so successful.
(Dallaporta’s Domestic Slavery found via Here on the web)