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Born Into Brothels

abuse. starvation. poverty. abandonment. despair. no one can deny that these are ugly words. they are also ugly realities in the red light district of calcutta, india.

'born into brothels' is a documentary that chronicles a professional photographer's effort to aid and encourage a group of children who live in these realities everyday. the children are all sons and daughters of prostitutes, who have very little hope of overcoming their incredibly sad and awful circumstances. the photographer, zana briski, lives in the red light district with them and expands their world by teaching them photography. she goes to painstaking efforts to get them out of the brothels and into boarding schools, using the children's own photography to make money for that cause. my description doesn't really do the film justice, because the narrative predominantly focuses on the children and their stunning, often overwhelmingly affecting photography. it would have been very easy for the film to focus primarily on zana's heroic efforts, but that becomes no more than a sidebar in the well-edited story of these creative and beautiful youth.

from a technical standpoint, the film was extremely dense and effective. i could find plenty to comment on along that vein, but i'm not really interested in that at the moment. what ultimately struck me about the film is that it so effectively expresses a very specific truth. it is a truth that few works of art are able to genuinely convey, but when one succeeds, it immediately becomes a personal favorite. it is a truth that brings me to my knees everytime.

and that truth is this - that grace has an incredible power to transform ugliness into beauty. as a Christian, i know of no greater image of this than the cross - an ugly symbol of one of the most horrific, torturous methods of capital punishment in history. and yet it's a symbol made utterly beautiful by the immeasurable grace given on it. for those who merely accept it, this grace transforms the ugly stain of sin into the beauty of righteousness. and though it doesn't always seem like it, this same grace is transforming our broken, fallen world into a place of utter beauty.

just as all of us have done nothing and can do nothing to deserve God's grace, the children in 'brothels' did nothing to deserve zana's time, energy, or help and had little, if anything, to offer her. out of love, she extended a small bit of grace to them, and the result was unbelievable beauty - beauty that extended well beyond the aesthetic value of their photography. it was the beauty of meaningful relationships, of innocence preserved, of impossible hope in the midst of bleak despair. and though only for some of the children, it was the beauty of that hope realized, an opportunity for a life they never thought possible.

what an awesome snapshot of reality in Christ.

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