I have been suffering from photo fatigue over the last 3 or 4 weeks. A consequence of devoting a significant amount of my time to exploring the complexities of sex worker imagery. You have to be aware of triggers and how your mind processes the violent and vitriolic nature of prohibitionist sex worker imagery. Reacting from a place of past objectification and abuse is harmful, disheartening and counter productive. It helps to have a strategy in place to deal with the emotional trauma these images can re trigger. A good plan .... in theory!
I lost sight of those strategies in the last month or so and the dehumanising effect of these images infiltrated my head space and well, frankly pissed me off royally. The negative head space made me question the whole Whoretograhy experience. I was on the verge of calling it quits. I haven't by the way. I'm not a quitter. I am however a procrastinator and actually that works surprising well for me to get my photo mojo back, that and a deadline.
So I stepped away from the images and imposed a rule on myself that I could only look at the MA one day a week because I was seriously close to calling it quits. I know something is seriously wrong with my thinking and decision making when I start to hate photography.
I do eventually want to produce thee definitive photographic book on sex worker imagery and the role photography plays in the online sale of sex but I suspect that's the project for a practise based PhD. I don't want to produce just another photographic essay on sex workers and their lives.
So, today I get my photo voice back and work on Whoretography 5 days a week.
I'm surprised by the number of emails I get from people asking how they should represent sex workers in print. Not such an easy question to answer. I could easily tell you want not to do. Think red lights, red fishnets, white women looking tragic and depressed on the end of the bed in poorly lit room looking pensive with a chubby balding man undoing his pants with a bunch of oddly crisp notes sitting on the bedside chest of draws and for some reason an unwrapped condom plonked on top of the money. The hint of desperation and victimhood hangs heavily in the room with the obligatory pimp hiding in the closet waiting to cash in on her over worked vagina as she lays back and thinks of a better job she could have if only she was not so unskilled and forced to sell sex , like sewing in a sweat shop. Anything other than being prostituted....
Oh, I have seen it all.
Don't get me started on the media obsession with the legs and shoes of sex workers. The fact I can create a volume of whoretography from leg shots alone keeps me amused to no end.
Then sex worker, activist and intersectional feminist (amongst other things) @AvaGraceVIP sent me a link to Sex Work and Empowerment by Kate Iselin and I finally found it, after 13 months of looking I have finally found an image that has all the visual elements a photograph needs to normalise sex work in the context of everyday life sans deviancy and photographic whoresteria and here it is ....
Now let me tell you why.
Its NOT the naked women, she is irrelevant in fact I'd airbrush her out. Its the wall paper. Its all about THAT wall paper, THAT 1980s mumsy lamp, THE wood panelling, THAT dated shabby chic pink bedspread, THAT faux vintage frame. It all screams everyday suburban normality, everyday ordinary. Sex work is ordinary. Sex Workers are ordinary. The lives of sex workers are brilliantly average, and ordinary. just like the rest of us.
Without going on a photographic scholar blog rant inspired by that French white bourgeois dude Roland Barthes this image has all the elements that makes you connect to sex work. It has studium and punctum (See Camera Lucida) a wide cultural interpretation that transcends class and cultural boundaries and personal details that establishes a strong direct personal relationship with the image and thus with sex work by default. The viewer can place sex work in the context of their every day life. The startof the end of sex work stigma. This is the real Whoreburbia ( side note: See tomorrows blog post for my response to the Feminist Current article)
In the fairness of giving the antis a photographic platform ( I'd hate to be accused of ignoring their voices) they too have seized the power of wall paper in selling their version of sex work. With one notable exception. If the photographs produced by prohibitionist campaigns to end demand were a reflection of truth then it would negate the need for the emotive textual rhetoric to sway your judgement. The words would not be a requirement. The image should be enough. They are creating a visual untruth based on a floored understanding of Blair's principles of photographic argument and rhetoric. But that's for another post.