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Every day, thousands of young Asian women go to work in the sex industry, a marketplace in which any desire can be satisfied for a price—despite the fact that many Asian countries are repressive to the point of banning certain standard sexual practices. For six years, Asian-American photographer Reagan Louie journeyed through this sexual underworld, visiting nearly a dozen countries including Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Vietnam, Tibet, Thailand, and Japan, among others, photographing the day-to-day lives of women who, either by choice or by necessity, exchange their bodies for money.
Orientalia: Sex in Asia reveals the concealed, yet readily available industry that thrives by fulfilling fantasy. From Thai sex emporiums and Japanese image clubs to Philippine dance halls and Taiwanese betel nut stands, Louie’s travels through this underground subculture expose a world where the mythical archetypes of female Asian sexuality—from the submissive Madame Butterfly to the dominating Dragon Lady—are maintained. The women depicted here are at times seductive and playful, entertaining their clients with sex, massages, or simple companionship; but they can also be desperately sad or indifferent as they finish with one client and pass hours before their next encounter.
At once alluring and unsettling, intimate and acute, Orientalia also features Louie’s narrative of his journeys, revealing the context in which these photographs were shot, and providing further insight into this exotic, sometimes erotic, and far from quixotic industry.
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Reagan Louie received a BA from UCLA and a MFA from Yale University. Louie's photographs are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a 1989 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1997 Fulbright Fellowship, and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Louie is the author of Toward A Truer Life: Photographs on China 1980-90 (Aperture, 1991), and contributed to China: Fifty Years Inside The People's Republic (Aperture, 1999). Louie is a professor in the Photography Department at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he has taught since 1976. He lives in San Francisco, California. Tracy Quan is the author of Diary of A Manhattan Call Girl: A Nancy Chan Novel (Three Rivers Press, 2003) which has been translated into four languages. Quan's novel will soon be appearing in China and in Japan. Her essays, reviews, and other writings have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Men's Health, The Philadelphia Enquirer, Lingua Franca, AsianAvenue.com, and Salon.com, as well as the anthology Whores and Other Feminists (Routledge, 1997). Quan is a contributor to NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex In America (Scala, 2002). She lives and works in New York City.
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