The Review of Photo-Books
STRIP-O-GRAM by Sebastien Girard
One of the wittiest photo-books about the hidden world of male stripping and the best example of creating a narrative from seemingly unconnected online digital images that I have seen for some time. Sebastien Girardsimply set up a search notification for “stripper” on EBay and waited for the emails to flood his inbox. The result was an accumulation of 1000s of candid photographs snapped at domestic strip-tease parties in American homes. In curating these images he created a virtual gateway into these living room parties where women of all ages take in the sexual show and photograph these men for hire.
Why you would sell these photographs on EBay is a question that remains unanswered for me but who am I to question the internet.
Julia Fullerton-Batten's, The Act.
I will start by saying that the audience of this book is not sex workers nor is it really about sex workers. It's about a carefully curated selection of whores, who somewhere along the narrative, in the eye of Julia Fullerton-Batten lose the status of a prostitute and transcend to that of the desired model. I should say the white model which is comical given an article in Huck Magazine about The Act begins with the line the sex industry in 2017 is as diverse as ever, but you'd not know it from this book. This book is all about white toned skinny modelesque whores with token women of colour thrown in for political good measure.
The Act is no different from other photo books that depict sex workers. They are never about sex workers nor are they intended for the viewing of sex workers. The Act is a visual expression of how a non sex work photographer views whores and the validation of an already existing worn out photographic gaze that falls upon the bodies of sex workers. A gaze perpetrated by photographers who seem to think photographing whores is some pinnacle of visual expression that will eventually bestow the photographer with accolades for creating art from the bodies of a marginalised group. Sorry, but to me c'est passé!
So, if this photobook is not for sex workers then who is the audience? Well, to me. That is obvious and should go without saying. Fullerton-Batten's book The Act is for the eyes of men only. History is littered with a visual representation of sex workers created for the titillation of male eyes only but I am no Whorestorian though, see Whores of Yore for that expertise. The intended male only audience and well, to be honest, everything about this book makes me question the role the photo book plays in the ordinary lives of sex workers. The role they play in the fight for rights. This is not a critique of the images, though. They are stunning, cinematic, quirky, dark and as Fullerton-Batten says herself they are playful and somewhat sexually charged. I'd expect nothing less from a collaboration with Vogue Italia but I can't be the only one who sighs at yet another photographic essay of naked topless sex workers. Legs spread. Mouth open. Tits on display. It's not to say I have an issue with nudity, it's to say I have an issue with the reductive view of sex workers.
The stunning photographs are independent and interdependent, the way movement flows through the book is a stroke of creative genius and the haptic experience of this book, the highly sexualised tactile sensation is key to its success, and here the heterosexual male audience comes into play.
The Act is described as;
Generously sized, beautifully printed, hand-crafted, sumptuously bound in a soft material flesh-like to the touch, and embellished with a lace garter, the book is a dream for collectors of fine-art photography.
They only way to interpret this is, The Act is a dream for men. I imagine the removal of the garter, the touching of the flesh, inviting you to enter the book, exposing the photographs is akin to the feelings of fingering a woman. I need not have to comment re the reference to being generously sized. I'm not convinced nor am I impressed. This presentation plays straight into the argument of a whore as an objectified sex object and what seals this book's fate in my eyes is the comment made by Fullerton-Batten herself “Although it’s not a choice of career that I would make" Well, why the hell not? Fullerton-Batten is that far removed from women who are sex workers that it has clouded her photographic output. If, as a photographer, you can't imagine yourself as a whore then you have no right or place to be photographing whores. This renders The Act, in my opinion nothing more than high-end fine art wank material.
A Modern Whore
Modern Whore is a sharp-witted, brilliantly shot, visual take on contemporary whoring in North America. Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin are a talented artistic duo who, perhaps without intending to, have redefined the genre of sex worker created photo book and set a new benchmark in the visual portrayal of sex workers. To dismiss this book as some sort of middle-class porno-doco that ignores the grim reality of sex work with block colours and humour is to miss the fact that these very block colours and photographic wit, kitsch feel and photographic social commentary is a revolution in the way the sex worker story is visually told. It is to miss the intelligent use of visual storytelling and quirky pop cultural references and use of visual wit in slapping down the patriarchal notions of sex work review culture. Make no mistake about it, this photobook is clever and to be honest, I can’t recall the last time a sex work book referred to Mary Tyler Moore, can you?