The Web has brought massive change to the sex industry. As with many other industries, the technology-led disruption has changed its fundamental economics. The easy availability of information on the Internet has revolutionised the industry’s marketing techniques and its verbal and visual vocabulary. Words still matter and have their allure, but digital photographs are now fundamental to the transaction of sex.
Whoretography is a practice-based research paradigm exploring a set of research questions through a practice methodology approach designed to challenge the prevailing ideology of sex-work and to present to the viewer an alternative perception of the industry and its participants. Designed to stop the over-simplification of the lives of cis and non-binary gendered sex workers, and to challenge current photographic representation that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting the lives of sex workers is to see them as ripe for ‘rescue’. - In the prohibitionist war on sex work, photography silences the intentions, actions, and feelings of sex workers and serves to make their lives more precarious. This narrow and particular visual representation of male oppression reproduces a politics of pity embedded in the visual representation of sex workers. This visual representation suggests only shame makes sense as a political, social and cultural response.
Whoretography seeks to understand what role photography plays in our understanding of contemporary sex work and aims to challenge the victim-centred nature of sex worker visual representation and how photography is instrumental in the prohibitionist war against sex work.
Fundamental to this, is deconstructing the visual vocabulary of sex work digital photographs online to investigate the overarching question “Is it possible to reclaim the word whore through creative practice as research?
What are the different typologies of sex worker digital imagery? And how do these typologies shape the online sex work visual landscape?
How does photography shape our understanding of sex work?
What is the relationship between posthumous dehumanisation of sex workers through the use photography and the sex worker rights movement?
How do sex workers contribute to the stigma of sex work by the very visual strategies employed to avoid sex work stigmatisation? What is the real impact of the blurred, pixelated face?
The objectives frame a body of work that takes the form of a collection of five self-published photo books. The photo books created from working with other peoples' photographic and written material. Content sourced online and directly from sex industry participants (clients and sex workers).
The main aims and objectives of Whoretography were;
1. A new interpretation of sex work online images to present to the viewer an alternative perception of sex work and its participants
2. To examine and understand the role photography plays in the lives of contemporary sex workers and the online transaction of sex.
3. To understand the role photography plays in the prohibitionist war against sex work and the wider political and social sex work debate.
4. Dispel the hyper-sexualised myth of the lives and bodies of sex workers.
5. Use photography to challenge the stigma of sex work and whore-phobic attitudes.
I answered these questions using a methodology of artistic practices; This research enabled me to present to the viewer a perspective of a sex work not witnessed before by those outside of the sex work industry.
I decided early on to work with other peoples' imagery and material. I complimented off-line research with on-line with Cyber-ethnography, also known as virtual ethnography (Pink, 2016) and ethnographic methods to the study of the global sex worker communities and cultures created through computer-mediated social interaction. The content was sourced directly using online research techniques and by forming working relationships with academics in the field of sex work research.
There is no canonical approach to cyber-ethnography that proscribes how ethnography is adapted to the online setting. I set up search notifications on internet search engines and social media platforms for keywords such as prostitute, sex worker, whore, escort, private companion, stripper, paramour, and courtesan. Sebastien Girad employed this keyword research technique for his book Strip O Gram (Girad, 2012) I also relied on making direct connections with sex workers via the microblogging platform, Twitter. This was complemented with research into the physical medium of the photobook and self-publishing as a creative practice.
This process logged as I worked through a reflective blog and website. This online presence diarised research process and progress, giving a structured forum for comment.
The database of images collected could now serve as a common anthology open to public or scholarly critique and will consider individual digital photographs and the overall pattern of sex worker photographs in western societies.
This research has three key beneficiary groups
1. Sex workers who work online and the broader sex work community.
2. Non-government organisations and agencies advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work.
3. Sex work art based projects and practitioners who work with sex workers.
The research audience is not sex workers or industry participants themselves but non-participants who have an interest in visual activism and gender identity politics.