It has been a very exciting month for me. I have finally completed my second photographic book Precious which was launched alongside an exhibition at the Eleven Gallery, London.
My first monograph Dead Eagle Trail, portraits of authentic cowboys of the American West, showed romanticism where cowboys were photographed in their own homes surrounded by western artefacts. This revealed a softer side to the gun-slinging cowboy, which has been really popular and well received. I wasn't sure this next project, portraits of the working girls in Nevada, would have the same appeal. So as my show comes down in London and makes its way over to Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, I have been pondering people's reactions.
Image by Jane Hilton
The portraits of these women have, on the whole, been viewed non-judgementally and a fondness attained when looking at these women. This is exactly what I was trying to convey. Working girls in Nevada are not stereotypical. The women are licensed, tested, pay federal tax, and work in a safe environment. A lot of women from the Nevada brothels feel liberated by prostitution, even if it wasn't their ideal career choice. It has meant independence and financial security. I interviewed all the women I photographed and put the best of these narratives at the back of the book deliberately so as not to interfere with the images. I wanted to reveal the souls of these women, and in order to do this the text could not be near the image. This has definitely worked, leaving powerful photographs and a compelling text. I couldn't have asked for better reactions.
I might add that this is despite the men's magazines that wanted to publish this work, but at the last minute thought it was too controversial. Even though every month they publish photographs of women and celebrities almost naked on the covers. That is another debate.
Many of these women thoroughly enjoy their job, not only the sex, but also the role as carer. They often site sex as only contributing 30% or 40% of their time. The women themselves are better at explaining how they feel, so I have included extracts from the interviews so you can hear it in their own words.
Chanel Dior (from Bella's Hacienda) says: "In this industry you are a friend, confidante and therapist. Sometimes you have to help people to sort their lives out. I have had guys who come in and book me just to talk about their wives". Sydney Rose (from Love Ranch South) describes her first client at the ranch: "He was a truck driver and he told me it was the best $3,500 he had ever spent. We didn't even have sex. I gave him a massage and then got into a bubble bath with him and all I did was rub his arms and elbows because he had been driving so hard he had a lot of tension in there. I didn't even touch his lower extremities. It was all about just being with a woman."
Their stories have been an important part of this work, although I was pleased I decided not to put their narratives next to their portraits. I really believe this would have clouded the viewer's judgement. You need to see these women without a text and appreciate their souls as well as their beauty.
Their stories are compelling however. The most overwhelming factor for me was listening to their goals and what they wanted to do in the future. The issue of giving back to society I found extraordinary and made me feel very selfish. I am just not worthy in comparison.
Cassidy (from Love Ranch South) wants "to own my own business, so when I have some money I can make somewhere where the homeless stay. The reason why homeless people can't get a job is because they haven't got an address. I am so blessed. I need to give back and show God that I appreciate instead of just taking and taking all the time."
Amy (from the Moonlite Bunny Ranch) "definitely wants to go back to school. I don't know exactly what I will do I just want to make a difference. Help move the world forward instead of backwards. I don't want to have a job in pursuit of money, but in the pursuit of changing things for the better."
Chelsea (from Bella's Hacienda) says: "I call myself a prostitute and I am proud of that. I love it. It's awesome. People think it's really degrading but I think it's really complimentary. People lay money to hang out with me, naked. I don't see how you can get much more complimentary than that."