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.