Photo project

Labyrinth: Katia Repina’s Cambodian Project on Self-Searching and Love in Karaoke Bars

Photographer Katia Repina came to a karaoke bar in Cambodia at night and observed men relaxing in the arms of the girls who work in the facility.
Katia Repina Age 27

Documentary photographer. Born in Moscow, graduated from Higher School of Economics. Moved to Barcelona in 2009 to study photojournalism. Has received many grants, is a winner of CLIC’14 Fotoperiodisme Jove Multimedia-contest in Perpignan, France.

— Prostitution is officially banned in the country. At the same time, Cambodia is one of the most popular destinations for sex tourism. To bypass the law, there exists the so-called KTV, a popular Asian phenomenon. They are karaoke bars where men come to have dinner, drink, sing karaoke, and enjoy the company of the girls who work there. Not all of them come for the girls though — some men are there only to have a good time with friends. Girls join the guests uninvited and ask the men to buy them a drink, to encourage them to spend more money.

I chose one small KTV in the suburbs of Siem Reap for my project. It was so simple and remote that tourists almost never came there — only the locals after a working day. I came there every night, ordered soy milk, and just observed everything that was going on around me. Several days later I took my camera out and tried to start a conversation, but almost no one spoke English.

From the start I was more interested in photographing the clients than the girls.

After several nights at the KTV I realized that the bar itself was no more than a metaphor for me. A metaphor of how I see relationships between men and women and things that are outside the generally accepted standards of relationships. Labyrinth is about the connection and alienation that we share. Labyrinth is a project on how to feel alive. Be obsessed, be aroused, be scared, tired, lost, and incredibly lonely. It is about wanting, needing love, about the moments filled with closeness and distance. About the things that color our lives, as very often the feeling of being completely lost helps you find yourself.

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