Project

While Mom Is At Work: Orphanage for the Children of Prostitutes in the Project of Morganna Magee

Australian photographer Morganna Magee went to Mexico to an orphanage for children, whose mothers earn a living with prostitution, made friends with its inhabitants and fell in love with them.

Morganna Magee Age 32

Lives in Melbourne. She studied photojournalism at Melbourne Polytechnic Institute. Published her works in The New York Times, The Age, The Big Issue, The Weekend Australian magazine, Art and Australia magazine. Had many solo and group exhibitions. Teaches photography at Melbourne Polytechnic Institute and Swinburne University of Technology.

This series came about under the mentorship of my teacher the late Mary Ellen Mark. She had heard about the orphanage and thought it would be a good fit for the way that I work as a photographer. When I learnt more about the story behind the orphanage I was desperate to visit and meet Dona Coco. She had run a successful family restaurant in Oaxaca for many years and gave it up to look after the children. She told me she came home from an evening at the restaurant one night in 2001 to the apartment block where she was living when she heard children crying in the stairwell. When she went to check on them she realized they had been left there while their mother went to earn money as a prostitute. Dona Coco took those children in and from there the orphanage was born.

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When I visited the orphanage it housed sixty children with forty seven living in the orphanage full-time, and the others returning to their single mothers for the nights.

Where possible the orphanage worked with mothers to get them into stable work so they could parent their children again. Some of the children were suffering heartbreaking neglect before Dona Coco found them.

The incredible level of selflessness and strength people are capable of showing is a recurring theme in my work so it made sense for me to go and meet Dona Coco, and photograph the orphanage in a way that celebrated the great new start these children had been given.

The children were open with me from the first moment I came through the gate. I think being an outsider (especially an Australian one with rusty Spanish) intrigued them, but I also think a lot of the children were happy for any extra attention. The children’s ages ranged from a week old to adolescents, and there was the usual sibling rivalry as you would expect, but also a competitiveness for attention, which meant for me as a photographer coming in I had to try and wait for them to calm down before I could begin photographing. It really wasn’t until the novelty of me being around began to wear off that I started getting good shots.

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I spent a lot of my time photographing Manuel, a little boy who has Down’s syndrome. His very young mother could not cope with him and he came to the orphanage as a 4-year-old to attend lessons and be socialized. When I met him he was 9 with nothing about his manner displaying the remnants of his hard start to life; he was funny, sweet and incredibly naughty. I was instantly besotted by him and spent a lot of time photographing him.

I hope when people look at the photos they can fall a little bit in love with these kids like I did. I wanted to celebrate these kids rather than focus on the sadness that has marked their journey to the orphanage. These kids were happy and loved and it was important to me to document what I saw not what I thought I should be seeing.

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