When United Airlines told Julie Dworkin she didn’t have enough frequent-flyer miles for a trip to South Africa, the Logan Square resident and her boyfriend, John Edel, opted instead for southeast Asia. During the three weeks last summer they spent traveling from Bangkok to Hong Kong by bus, train, truck, bicycle, hydrofoil, tuk-tuk, and foot, the pair were struck by the vast gulf between the haves and the have-nots. In Cambodia, taking a boat to Siem Reap, Dworkin and Edel saw people in rags, living in shacks. Many had only one leg, the victims of land mines. The country’s wrecked infrastructure also led to a harrowing five-hour ride in the back of a pickup truck on a bumpy dirt road to Battambang, where speeding vehicles play games of chicken. By contrast, glittering Hong Kong was a capitalist paradise, packed with luxury shops and served by an extensive public transportation system.
Dworkin, a native of Evanston, is currently associate director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She’s also an avid photographer; she started shooting in 1994 on a cross-country road trip, then took classes at the old Jane Addams Center Hull House and put together her own basement darkroom out of $150 worth of used equipment. In 1997 she joined the Art House, an artists’ co-op in Oak Park. What she captured on film last summer gave her new insight into her day job. “It’s always interesting to go to other countries and see what form poverty takes,” she says. “Cambodia is so poor. There’s really very little they can do to help people. Here, we have this totally wealthy country and yet we have people living in abject poverty.”
An exhibit of 15 of Dworkin’s black-and-white photographs, “From Bangkok to Hong Kong Overland,” opens Saturday, January 11, with a free reception from 6 to 9 at No Friction Cafe, 2502 N. California. It runs through February 8; call 773-235-2757 for more information.