Warning: I use the term prostitution in this post not sex work as it fits in the context of the way imagery is used in the Kelly Lee Carr case, the context of violence against women and as a cautionary tale to women 'modify your behaviour or violence will befall you'
If I can be certain of anything its this. If you are sex worker, you WILL be judged in life and you most certainly WILL be judged in death. Think I am overreacting, then read a post written in the voice of Kelly Lee after she was murdered, a warning from beyond the grave.
Before you read my story, please do not judge me to harshly. I was most likely a young runaway who quickly learned how to do what I had to do in order to survive out in the real world alone. I apparently did not learn it all, as I was murdered July, 10,1991.
Prostitution did not murder Kelly Lee, her boyfriend did but hooking is the only culprit in this crime story and well, the dead whore.
Remembering Kelly Lee Carr is an odd thing for me to say. Odd because until a few days ago I had no idea about her life. That she existed for a brief time. That she has acquired some notoriety in death. That its not enough for people just to know her as Kelly Lee Carr. That she was murdered, or why her life was so chaotic and complex. The woman she was and the tale of caution in death she became. I had no idea why the unremarkable nature of her life was now so remarkable to the middle classes. The chattering masses who condemn women like Kelly Lee to a life and a death of stigma. Death by prostitution. A long drawn out painful suicide. A poetic tragedy of lost hope and self destruction. Being slowly euthanised by way of fucking for cash.
Invisible in life she was photographed in death so the world can have a visual cue of the fate that will become all prostitutes.
I am embarrassed to say that I can't even remember where she caught my attention. It may have been the twitter. It probably was. Its wonderful for seeing and understanding the relationship between the digital era and the use of photography to shame the lives and bodies of sex workers.
This post mortem image caught my eye.
It has an inherent beauty about it. A tender softness. A visual warning perhaps for women who find themselves by circumstance involved in prostitution. Prostitution can't be a choice, who surely would choose this fate?
They did not need to release this photo to help find out who this prostitute was, other photographs of her in life existed. They were found with her body.
The face of a murdered sex worker is a powerful photographic tool. A forced portrait if you will. The faces of the prostituted. When portraits are coerced. A disciplinary tool weaponised by the state to keep wayward women in line of social moral conformity. Be a good girl or end up like this dead whore. Like this dead whore. An exclusionary feminist tool of continued sex worker oppression.
Photography is power as Susan Santag noted. To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. The power of the post mortem death face of a prostitute is more powerful than the hooker and john mugshot in abolishing prostitution.
What I love about Kelly Lee Carr is that although she battled to conceal her true identity from those around her, she clung on to who she was by carrying with her an extensive collection of images from her different lives. A remarkable set of pre digital self representation images . An insightful photographic move by a troubled soul. A prophetic move perhaps by someone who needed people to know who she really was after she died.
I have said this before. We all end up as a collection of photographs. Don't be that person with the death notice that reads 'no known photographs of this person exists' I am grateful that I can see Kelly Lee Carr for who she was not just a slab of prostituted meat.
For more writings on Kelly Lee Carr …