I am not to sure if you know but I am a research assistant with Beyond the Gaze which is looking into the sale of sex online in the 21st century. I contribute to the mapping by writing articles and posts photography. When I say photography, I mean all aspects of sex work photography.
I am submitting something about Instagram + Sex Work, you can see it below. Its a bit of a work in progress. If you would like me to add anyting, then please just comment.
1) Prior to the post-industrial online digital photographic revolution sex work occupied private spheres hidden behind non-descript doorways. Visual marketing rarely existed and when it did, it was often confined to tart cards and books that documented the hidden world of carnival sex workers.
2) Clients were not practised in the art of requesting (demanding perhaps) access to face photographs and sex workers rarely engaged in visually marketing. These private spaces remained photographically undocumented. A world witnessed only by the participants. Nowadays with the advent of the internet, sex workers occupy public spaces.
What once was a private has been dragged into a public sphere for all to see.
3) 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
4) This production of a visual working identity is now fundamental to the transaction of sex. Clients clearly make choices informed by them and sex workers spend time and effort arranging photographs. The true impact on the role photography plays in the transaction of commercial sex online has yet to be explored, but it is an undeniable truth that visual representation has revolutionised the sex industry.
5) Like with all online businesses, sex workers have harnessed the power of the internet to ply their trade and build a unique sex work brand where platforms and websites act as shop fronts and window displays. One-way sex workers do this is by use of the social media platform Instagram. Instagram affords sex workers a free networking and advertising platform on which they have total control of their visual representation (within certain limitations). It is now a standard tool when it comes to working in the sex industry.
6) It allows sex workers to create visual content in the form of video and photographs. To connect with clients by the taking and sharing of content. Images can be shared publicly or privately and most importantly through a variety of other social networking platforms, such as Facebook and twitter. Sex workers need only to post one image on Instagram and tag it with key words for it to be automatically shared across a number of networking and marketing platforms offering an instant visual connection with clients.
7) Instagram has harnessed the power of photographic nostalgia and human connection by the allowing users to create digital images reminiscent of pre digital retro prints. This familiar sense to the images allows the viewer a more intimate connection. This is important in sex work and the context of the girl friend experience. Men are seeking intimacy not just the mechanics of sex.
8) The Instagram filter has reshaped the visual landscape of the internet and allows the person posting the images to set the tone of their self-representation and visual autonomy. Two attributes that are key in the fight for sex worker rights. Instagram allows sex workers to expressthemselves though visual self-determination and agency.
9) Instagram builds solidarity with other sex workers. Working independently because of legislative impediments is an isolating experience. Instagram allows sex workers to see into the lives of other stigmatised men, women and transgender individuals building trust and solidarity without falling foul of draconian legislation.
10) To build a community they are not excluded from. The wonderment of Instagram is the ability for communities to be created by the sharing of photographs. This then becomes important in the fight for sex worker rights and activism. Instagram allows sex workers to come together to push for change of the political landscapes that shapes their livelihoods and experiences.
11) To fight stereotypical sex work imagery. We have reduced the world of sex work into visual terms. The internet is now the very public sphere of what was once a private world. Men pick apart sex worker images as if they understand what they are seeing. Women shame other women for acting the whore in photographs. There is a visual war raging against the lives and bodies of sex workers
12) The derogatory misogynistic language that surrounds sex work is nothing without the visual clichés that conveys these terms. Instagram gives a platform to sex workers to challenge the false visual constructions of their bodies and their work.
13) As a more targeted form of visual marketing. By spending time carefully selecting and crafting images to post on Instagram, sex workers are directly choosing their market and the type of client they wish to see. This is important with the rise of the girl friend experience and client demand for visual access to the lives of sex workers. Instagram allows clients to buy into the experience they are purchasing, even if this one is a carefully crafted visual persona.
14) Sex workers do however face arbitrary rules and regulations that limit their freedom of visual self-documentation and marketing techniques on Instagram. Rules surrounding nudity are seen as hindering freedom of sexual expression and the indirect targeting of sex workers online to deny them access to public spaces and push them back into private worlds to be hidden and misunderstood.