At the best of times, we photographers have a dubious reputation. Uninspired wedding photographers, pack hunting paparazzi and untalented fine art delicate artists. Today I am ashamed to call myself a photographer. This mans actions sadden me. They made me angry.
This is the problem with sex worker representation by photographers. Photographers who fail to see through they eyes of sex workers.
I have had this post swirling in my head for sometime. I've not written it until I was fairly sure my perception of this mans objectification was coming from a place actually based on his actions. Not from a place of my personal past experience with being objectified by men. I wanted to make sure my absolute disdain for Txema Salvans practices are based on his methods not my experiences.
This man makes me embarrassed to be a photographer specialising in sex workers. Ashamed would not be to strongly put and frankly I feel rumbled by his lack of empathy and understanding towards his subjects. I am embarrassed that Martin Parr and the British Journal of Photography have applauded this photographers actions. Not surprised though given their failure to acknowledge the whore-phobia and societal discourse in the words prostitute and prostitution.
That's a common problem I am noticing with photographers like Txema Salvans and Jane Hilton who, without fail repeatedly uses the words hookers and girls robbing these women of agency.
Let me be clear.
This is not a critique of Txema Salvans work. Its his methods that blatantly contributes to the stigma of sex work. So, what are my issues? His ruthless approach to how he chose to photograph these sex workers without their knowledge in a manner that is akin to shooting wildlife is what outrages me. Sex workers are not animals. They are not sub human.
So, this is the back story.
Txema Salvans spent six years photographing the street based sex workers in Spain for his book 'The Waiting Game' Six years stalking sex workers by concealing his identity as a photographer by posing as a workman or surveyor in order to photograph his models (his words not mine, I think prey is more suited)
“Prostitutes do not welcome being photographed, and Salvans employed a most cunning deception to help him get access to his models,” explains Parr in his introduction. “Posing as a surveyor, working with an assistant holding a surveyor’s pole, and wearing the all-important hi-vis jacket, he slowly encroached on the prostitutes’ territory. The models were almost entirely oblivious to the fact that they were an essential part of the photographs. He could hardly believe this worked so well.”
Yes. I can only imaged how pleased he is as a man, sitting in his privileged position mocking sex workers by being so cunning. Lets look at the word cunning. Shifty. Slippery. Insidious. Its a mistake and an insult to Sex Workers to dismiss this as streetwise street photography.
So, here are my issues with is methods:
1) Use of blatantly bias terminology. For a man who spent six years gazing in on the public face of sex work, one can not fathom why he did not make the effort to understand the appropriate language with dealing with sex workers. He fails to acknowledge the oppressiveness of the word prostitute which, I can only imagine allowed him to dehumanise these women and stalk them ruthlessly and without consideration for 6 years. Think about that for a moment. For 6 years this man pretending to be someone else to fool these women. Its assault by camera. Violence in the form of camera. Nothing short than stalking.
2) By his own admission he accepts that sex workers do not like to be photographed, yet failed to question why this is. Rather that approach, engage and understand these women he choose to conceal his identity and photograph from afar so he could see this women in their natural habitat. This is how game photographers hunt their prey. He has reduced these sex workers to animals. Cunning was the world used. Cruel is the world I would use.
3) His use of the world models implies his work is some sort of fashion statement, social commentary on the political sex-scape in Spain and that he has implied consent from these women willing to be photographed. No words needed. By his own admission, he did not ask.
The term models does not accurately reflect how this man viewed these sex workers. Subjects is not appropriate either nor does it reflect the nature of how he has come to represent them.
Models is incorrectly used and absolves Salvans of any moral wrong doing. Targets. Mark. Victim. Prey. Kill. Mug. Raven. Dupe. Underdog. Casualty far more fitting for a man better suited to stalking than social commentary through photography.
4) To dismiss this mans actions as just an example of street photography and no one has a right to privacy is to dismiss the basic human rights of sex workers not to be mocked by the camera. If his argument is about not having the right to privacy when in public then why the need for such stealth deceitful actions? His motives can only be assumed to be cruel. More so when you consider the stance on sex work in Spain.
Some consider Spain to be the worlds capital when it comes to Sex Work. Sex Work is so socially accepted in Spain that a United Nations study reports that 39 per cent of all Spanish men have visited a Sex Worker. Possibly due to a societal quirk after the Franco years, an expression of individuality and sexual freedom of sorts. Sex Workers are not recognised with basic human rights that come with other forms of labour as such stigma is still rife. Many women lead double lives to protect themselves, and by rightly so from victimisation.
Sound familiar? In this case victimisation by camera.
So in a country where the services of sex workers are so widely enjoyed. He need not have worried about being caught up in a questionable activity. I could understand if he was photographing a blatantly illegal activity and feared a backlash both from state agencies or criminal cartels. Its not like he was photographing the manufacture of cocaine.
Furthermore, in a country where because women are denied the fundamentals of basic humans rights, stigma is rife. A fact he clearly acknowledges in his statement about sex workers not liking to be photographed, what does he do? Plaster these women's faces across the globe for commercial and critical acclaim without their consent.
Stigma kills Sex Workers. Men kill Sex Workers. Photographers contribute to the stigma and death of sex workers.
Salvans is on the one to watch list of the British Journal of photography. Being watched with respect in a manner apparently undeserving of this sex workers who have had their faces published without their consent. I mean, how could they. He robbed them of that chance by subterfuge