Whoretography (Photography + Sex Work)
The visual vocabulary of female sex workers in online digital imagery and commercial photographic narratives.
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 can still matter and have their own allure but photographic images are now fundamental to the transaction. Clients clearly make choices informed by them and sex workers spend time and effort arranging photographs and attaching complementary text to those photographs.
The Whoretography project examines how photography objectifies sex workers but also how the men who pay for sex and the wider community perceives them.
Reflection on theme:
The Whoretography project aims to present the viewer with a realistic perception of sex workers otherwise hidden by feminism, anti sex work rhetoric and modern western cultural attitudes towards women’s bodies and sex.
Sex workers often defy the current narratives of victim or deviancy but this is not reflected in the current approach to sex worker representation in digital images. Current digital imagery used to sell commercial sex online reinforces whore-phobic attitudes and allows the stigma surrounding sex work to be reinforced.
It’s anticipated that Whoretography will allow for a different type of self-representation and agency. The production of a working identity is fundamental to protecting sex workers. Maintaining secrecy in photographs is also maintaining the stigma status quo. In short - many aspects of photographic marketing are contributing to the stigma and objectification of sex workers.
Whoretography is about documenting sex workers' true humanity and sexuality.
Whoretography is to stop over-simplification of the lives of sex workers, to attack sex worker clichés about motive and to see how presentation in photography and its accompanying texts can obscure rather than reveal. Whoretography will be a new voice - that expresses unusual angles about the work, the clients, and the relationships - the meaning. It won't be the only way of looking at these things - but it will be unusual and evidenced.
1) Bring the privateindoor sex workers into the public sphere minus the narrative of victimization or deviancy.
2) Dispel the hyper sexualised myth of sex workers.
3) Use photography to challenge the stigma of sex work and whore-phobic attitudes.
4) Demonstrate the presence of intimacy in commercial heterosexual scripts between middle class clients and middles class educated sex workers.
5) Challenge the convention that engaging in the purchasing of sexual services is on the spectrum of deviancy.
A critical reflection on projects relationship to theoretical knowledge:
This project is informed by feminist theories and approaches to visually representing sex workers. The representation of sex worker in print and academia is not always reflective of their personal experiences. This only perpetuates stigma and the stereotyping of sex workers as sexual deviants devoid of any humanity. Female sex worker have historically symbolised sin in religious traditions (Koken, 2011) and this is prevalent in many aspects of western culture. A culture that places sex workers at the bottom of the sex hierarchy reflecting their lack of status in culture that both shames and celebrates women’s bodies. (Bernstein, 2007) This project recognises that photography has the power to reinforce discourses that are detrimental to sex workers. Whoretography’s perspective of sex work is that it’s a legitimate work practise and will challenge the current representation of sex workers.
There are limited discussions about the relationship between photography, sex worker stigma, objectification of female sex workers and the online transactions around paid sex. There has not been a photographic project that examines how current online trends in photographic styles objectifies sex worker. Most commercial photographic and art-based sex work projects promote the discourse of sex workers being victims of circumstance, ignoring the experience of the successful, educated and hidden from view middle class sex worker.
Sex Work + Photography
Conversations about sex work photography centre on the discussion of singular images or a complete body of work. Very little thought is given to what happens between the images and the entirety work. Photo-work is more than a single image or a series of linear images. It is a complete body of work that encompasses photographs and texts and conveys a deeper understanding of the subject matter being presented to the viewer.
Photo-work will ensure Whoretography will not be simply about design but looks at the hidden narrative in the arrangement of pictures.
Photo books will be the physical medium that Whoretography will bring the private world of white middle class female sex workers into the public sphere. A photo book allows a photographer to construct a narrative through selection and sequencing of images. This will give the photo work a physical structure and Whoretography a voice.
It’s collaboration between the photographer and the audience.
WHORETOGRAPHY CONTEXTUAL STATEMENT
I am a Documentary Photographer, Masters Student and Sex Work Activist interested in challenging the victim centered nature of sex worker imagery online and how photography is instrumental in the war against sex workers. I want to challenge the prevailing ideology of sex-work and present to the viewer an alternative perception of the industry and its female participants - normally obscured by one particular, narrow version of feminism, by anti sex-work rhetoric and by modern western cultural attitudes towards women’s bodies and sex.
My work is aimed at stopping the over-simplification of the lives of sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting their lives is to see them as ripe for 'rescue.' . In the 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 selective representation of male oppression reproduces a politics of pity embedded in the visual representation of sex workers. This visual representation suggests only pity makes sense as a political, social and cultural response.
Further to this, the transaction of sex is dehumanised in the public gaze and robbed of intimacy. If, as Lindsay Smith suggests “the photographic record is an agent in the collective fantasy of family cohesion” then documenting commercial intimacy is the visual record of the death of that marital fantasy.