By Damir Sagolj
She killed her husband by giving him six daughters. In the land of warriors, drug lords and brutal highlanders – he wanted a son. And then he just died disappointed, Moe Mohm said, leaving her to grow opium and raise girls.
By the fireplace, obviously the central point of a household high in the mountains of the Shan state, Moe sits and talks to us in a frantic combination of laughter and tears. She is an ethnic Pa-O and wears a towel above her pretty face with teeth ruined by betel nut. Only a glance at her hands reveals real age and hard work in fields. The house seems to be okay – humble but well kept and clean.
I take a few pictures just to get her accustomed to the camera. There will be a turn in her story as she talks through her life to the first journalists she has ever met and I want to capture the moment when it comes. It might take a while, but I know how to wait.
Here is another episode to think about, a real one with very real people. Not long ago, in a different country with similar problems, two colleagues, both photographers (it could be me), drove to a refugee center to join genocide survivors watching the TV appearance of one of those accused for the killings at a war crimes court. They knew it would be a strong moment. As they approached the village, one of them says to the other who is driving “stop by a grocery shop, I want to buy onion”. The other one, with a huge question mark above his head asks “why” to get a straight answer – to make a woman cry, to make our picture better. “WHF, what about moral and ethics, are you out of your mind“, argues the driver. The answer is another difficult question and makes you think – is it easier with onion or to ask all the questions, to torture and make the woman go through the horror of her past just to get that tear, only to make a picture better, more real?
How do you feel, I ask my colleague who sits next to me as we interview Moe Mohm, knowing the moment will come if we ask the right questions?