Vlad Sokhin is a big Russian with a penchant for understatement, which could explain why he says he’s comfortable working in Port Moresby, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Sure, he’s been held at gunpoint a few times, but it hasn’t stopped him from coming back to Papua New Guinea nearly a dozen times in the last couple of years. First on his own and then with the help of the UN and other organizations, he traveled throughout the country documenting various forms of violence towards women (“meri” in the local language) and some of the men responsible. His first book, Crying Meri, will be released in October 2014. He joined R&K from Dili, East Timor.
Roads & Kingdoms: What brought you to Papua New Guinea?
Vlad Sokhin: I had read reports about the very high level of violence against women there. Not only domestic violence, but also street violence, sexual violence, sorcery-related violence [in case of an unexpected death in a village, residents often accuse a woman of sorcery, usually a relative of the dead person, and torture her, forcing her to confess that she is a witch]… I was shocked. I decided to go and see what I could do as a documentary photographer. I pitched the story to several magazines but it seemed no one was interested. I went anyway. I got some material, photos and stories, and submitted this work for the FotoEvidence Book Award, where I was a finalist. I didn’t win, but someone from the UN saw my work and the OHCHR office in Papua New Guinea asked me if I was interested in collaborating. So I returned and started working with them and a lot of different organizations like UN agencies, NGOs, charities… They were calling me all the time by that point, so I made Port Moresby my base.