Trafficking in women in Argentina

I met Margarita Meira at the end of 2015 in Buenos Aires, in the Constitución neighborhood, where she had recently founded the association of mothers who were victims of trafficking. They gathered in this small room with a table, a few chairs and a wall of photos of missing girls, who disappeared into thin air: some a few months ago, some years ago, they had been kidnapped and forced to prostitute themselves in some hidden brothel in the town.

The work on trafficking in women in Argentina began by looking at those images of smiling and unaware girls. The idea of telling the invisible was very complex because I was in contact with something that didn’t exist in the moment. I started listening, listening to the desperate mothers who were looking for their daughters, sometimes for years, and never stopped hoping, fighting. I met with the few girls who had miraculously managed to escape after years of abuse and violence at the hands of their tormentors. I looked at the steady eyes of Fabiola, a 21-year-old girl, skin and bones, when I met her for the first time she weighed 32 kilos. I felt her absent look and her tears from time to time as well as Nancy’s apparently serene expression and Laura’s immense pain. I tried to understand their wounds and at the beginning I didn’t use the camera, it wasn’t needed, first it was necessary to get in touch with them: march all together at the demonstrations of Mothers who were victims of trafficking and see how these women were trying to survive inside. I was interested in telling their inner life but also how they lived, their contact with the outside world.

The photographic work began by subtraction, looking beyond what I saw, in the gestures, in the gaze, in the movements, in a present that is past and in a past that tries to be present. I started shooting desperate mothers and girls who returned after being locked up in a clandestine hole. I wanted to talk about the commendable strength of Margarita who does the impossible to find some missing woman and give them back an identity. I have been to the poorest provinces of Buenos Aires where many of these girls take refuge: in phantom shacks, in contact with a dramatic reality. The intent was not to give the work on trafficking only a reporting angle but to try to understand where the kidnapping began, because Argentina is a country so accustomed to the fact that people disappear, more than any other place in the world. I was interested in telling what Margarita and the mothers do but also what the girls who return from this nightmare feel and understand what trafficking really is. Such a complex and often impenetrable world of absence, of pain, of violence that remains attached to the skin, in the eyes of those who have experienced it. The images I looked for are precisely to tell the wounds left by those women who survived.