"You are going to have to pixilate his penis for me to fund this." – Mayor Rudy Guiliani [while my penis was projected on his office wall during the presentation by the production team]
The artist (James Ostrer) visited six brothels in three different cities within the U.K. This container is a documentation of his experience.
The artist had lived in each city at some point in his adult life. The locations of the brothels were close to the artist's homes, all on or near a high street. They were either, advertised in a local newspaper, clearly sign-posted from the street or found by a simple internet search.
The artist went into the brothel as a customer, and he was allocated or chose the prostitute himself. The artist paid for a half-hour session up front, then when in the bedroom asked the prostitute to take photographs of him in any way she wished.
The artist had never met or discussed the project prior to the session - he offered no artistic direction to the prostitutes and they had no idea the photographs were to be displayed for this exhibition. The prostitutes gave him detailed instructions on how to pose and the facial expressions they wanted to capture; the artist only removed his clothing when instructed to, and the prostitutes determined when the photographic session ended. The photographs are displayed in sequence and have not been edited (the only pictures that have been taken out are those where the prostitute has captured herself in a mirror and she can be seen in the reflection).
The prostitutes were named and priced:
Isabella, 60 pounds
Yolanda, 60 pounds
Victoria, 40 pounds
Tina, 25 pounds
Ola, 80 pounds
Sapphire, 80 pounds
Out of the six prostitutes half spoke poor English, or very poor English. Only one was a U.K. national. Many prostitutes create a working identity - out of fear, self-preservation and for the customer's conscience - making it almost impossible to gauge the truth. It is often through a customer's instinct and action that sex slaves are freed.
Isabella, Victoria and Tina were allocated to the artist. The artist chose Ola because she was wearing a wig; he chose Yolanda because she was African; he chose Sapphire because she was the oldest prostitute in the brothel. The artist's aim was to work with a full variety of prostitutes.
Isabella said she was from Denmark and also spoke fluent English. We went over the half-hour by 15 minutes although one of the other girls tapped on the door three times to alert us, time was up. She told me to come back any time and that any of the girls would love to do this. She also asked for me to bring a specific favourite picture she took to give to her the next time I came back.
Ola was Polish and spoke basic English. She said she was married and that her husband thinks she works in a restaurant. She was extra cautious about deleting any images where she was reflected in the mirror as she thought her husband would recognise her -She wore a wig. She said she lost her job at a hotel in the credit crunch. She said she has two personalities, "Ola the wife" and "Ola in here." I asked what nationality her husband was, but she didn't want to answer. I asked again and she said that he was a foreigner and "that is it." When I left she said I was a good boy and could take two sweets.
Sapphire was fluent in English, and she had a Welsh accent. She said she travels to Bristol every Friday morning with four other girls who live in the same area of Wales. They work across two brothels and one lap dancing club. They work straight through from Friday morning to Monday morning then go back to Wales - they all pool their money together and split it after taking expenses such as petrol out.
Victoria said she was Lithuanian. She spoke little English but we were able to have basic conversation. There were many holes in her answers to the few questions I asked without prying too much. For example, I asked, "How did you find yourself in Brighton?" She answered, "It's Brighton, it's the beach! I then asked, "How often do you go to the beach?" She answered, "Why would I go, it's just stones." The responses were very awkward so I avoided asking too many questions as I could see she found it distressing. She also stated at the end of our session that she found having to photograph me much more difficult and tiring than what she normally does.
Yolanda said she was from Angola in Africa. She spoke fluent English and said she had finished her degree in business studies at Bristol University that year and was putting cash together before going back to her parents' farm.
Tina spoke no English at all really. I found it very difficult to explain that I wanted her to photograph me. I did it with hand gestures. She was very confused and also said "That not why people come here." I explained that was all I wanted but she never really understood. I asked if she had ever used a camera and she replied "Yes, on New Year’s Eve." I asked where and what of, and she said looking at me like I was stupid, "My friends at a party."