My postlady brought me all sorts of lovely things this week; first and foremost among them was a package containing Chester Brown’s beautiful cover art for my new book, The Forms of Things Unknown. By the time you read this I should have hired a digital artist to do the color and layout, and after that it won’t be long before I start putting the book together! Other packages, from a new reader who prefers to remain anonymous, contained a book about Doctor Who, a complete collection of Leonard Cohen’s studio albums, a big bag of licorice candy and this rather stunning dress, which I’ve already worn for an appointment with a very lovely couple! I also got a good bit of self-care in last week, caught up on my writing, completed another step in my secret project and got a good bit of paying work in, so all in all it was a very productive week (despite Seattle being largely at a standstill a week ago Monday due to overnight snow). This week: more selfcare, more work and more playing catch-up, and speaking of paying work you only have 12 more days to take advantage of my two-librarian special with Lorelei Rivers! Seriously, gents, this is not an opportunity to miss; we will shush you like you’ve never been shushed in your entire life! For details, email me at my work address. And don’t be overdue!
Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category
Though I’ve been aware of Whoretography for some time, the release of her e-magazine inspired me to ask her to contribute a guest column and she graciously obliged me. I encourage you to explore her website, to buy a copy of her e-magazine and to help support the project via GoFundMe.
I am addicted to photography; it’s a lifelong obsession of mine that began as a 2-year-old with the death of my father. When you lose a parent as a baby, the only connection you can form with that parent is through imagery. The last photograph before his death, the only one of us together, him proudly sitting on his 1970s motorbike. His death sparked my purpose in life. Now I am a documentary photographer, masters student, sex worker & activist interested in challenging the victim-centered nature of sex worker imagery on-line and how photography is instrumental the online sale of sex. I know my father would be proud of me.
I bought my first camera when I was 12 and I have never been without one since; even when I was homeless for 18 months, I refused to sell my last camera. My mother evidently thought photography was just a phase adolescent girls go through, because I was not permitted to study photography at secondary school; I went on to graduate with an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Genetics, Post Graduate in Criminology and a Graduate Diploma in Small Business Management. I put photography to one side in this period, prioritising an institutionally-defined career in criminal justice, and I moved countries; I sold and traded cameras to pay rent, tuition and one-way tickets to London and Paris. Finally, in April 2005, I followed my passion and become a full-time photographer; I also started as a sex worker the very same day. And because photography is so ingrained in my psyche, I eventually managed to make sex work about photography too. I simply refused to follow the photographic rules which dictated that in order to sell sex, I must photograph myself naked or semi-naked and bent over a table clutching my tits. So, to stand out from the blowjob crowd in an industry that demanded the use of photography, I said no to selfies and soft porn boudoir imagery and instead harnessed the power of pop culture and iconic imagery to sell the essence of the girlfriend experience. My reasoning was simple; I am not selling my body, so why do you need photographs of my body? This initial rebellion against sex industry photographic expectations kick-started my fascination with the role photography plays in the online transaction of sex.
12 years later, I am now an award winning published photographer, a sex worker and a master’s student undertaking research in sex work activism through the Whoretography project. It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly Whoretography began, but it was somewhere between realising I was in the business of a photographic conspiracy in which my camera was acting as an agent for the falsehood of couple cohesion and intimacy, and the idea of documenting paid-for sexual intimacy as the antidote to the visual falsehoods of wedding photography. Whoretography sits nicely at the intersection of images, technologies, society and the sex worker rights movement. It’s the first academic, ethnographic and creative platform dedicated solely to understanding the role photography plays in sex work via self-publishing as an artistic practice. The objectives frame a body of creative work that takes the form of a collection of soon to be published photo and artist books, zines and the recently launched Whoretography E – Magazine. My visual activism is about exploring a set of research questions through a mixed methodology approach designed to challenge the prevailing ideology of sex-work and to present to the viewer an alternative perception of the industry and its participants. I wish to stop the over-simplification of the lives of cis, trans and non-binary sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting the lives of sex workers is to see them as ripe for “rescue”. This narrow and particular visual representation of male oppression reproduces a politics of pity that is embedded in the visual representation of sex workers; it suggests only pity makes sense as a political, social and cultural response.
I work within the photographic genre of found imagery, with other peoples’ photographic material and written documents. The material for Whoretography is sourced using cyberethnographic methods; however, online interactions alone are insufficient to develop a deep understanding of the visuals of the sex worker online community. So I’ve conducted offline research consisting of qualitative interviews with internet based sex workers, and their customers in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America. Found photography allows for an editorial style in which I can act as both as editor and author; this is not common when working with sex work imagery. Standard approaches to visually representing sex workers include photo-voice, wherein sex workers themselves create the photographs (typically of their workspaces), and photo-essay; the publishing world is awash with photo essays that, for example, take a sneaky look inside brothels. I wanted to avoid these visual clichés. Working with found images means constructing new narratives from seemingly unconnected photographs to provoke critical dialogue about sex work and present an alternative view of sex work. It allows me to take the discussion of sex worker imagery from the realms of the sex work community and place it in the wider community. Fundamental to this goal is deconstructing the visual vocabulary of sex work imagery online to investigate the overarching questions, “Is it possible to reclaim the word ‘whore’ through creative practice as research?” and “What role does photography play in contemporary online sexual consumption?” I have an interest in ensuring photography is relevant in the fight for the full decriminalisation of sex work. We must celebrate the fact that sex workers are now image makers; we must challenge the exclusion of sex workers from online visual spaces; and we must talk about the posthumous humiliation of sex workers via the standard practice of releasing morgue photos. The prohibitionist war on sex work is underpinned by their belief that their photographic rhetoric is photographic truth, and we must name the game when it comes to the middle-class masses being in an uproar about the apparent gentrification of sex work via some mythical photoshop gentrification tool.
I wonder if I have made this article sound too clinical and academic, but it has not been an easy two years. I have an overwhelming sadness for some of what I have seen; people’s understanding of sex work is based on a carefully constructed visual lie. The media are in cahoots with exclusionary bullies to peddle that lie, and it bloody royally pisses me off that middle-class feminists seek to deny sex workers access to the digital revolution and visual online spaces. I undertook a Master’s Degree because I was seeking a better theoretical understanding of my craft, and in stepping away from weddings I unwittingly stumbled across my life’s photographic purpose. I am committed to setting up a visual activist platform and sex work-positive publishing house. I have amassed over 20,000 images and a lot of what I have seen makes me cry. I have seen child abuse victims marketed as teen sex workers; prohibitionists create rescue images with a tonal quality reminiscent of colonial missionaries “saving the natives from themselves”; the publication and subsequent outing of sex workers by newspapers; the dire consequences of the pixilated face in propelling stigma; and the shaming of sex workers as a police tactic to help in the gentrification of up and coming hipster neighbourhoods. The way people have weaponised the camera as a tool of violence against sex workers is in marked contrast to the way we use the camera as an agent for couple cohesion in wedding photography. I am on a mission to shift the political landscape of sex work by forcing people to understand its visual landscape. Photography is currently used to silence the intentions, actions and feelings of sex workers and to make their lives more precarious; we need to change this, and I hope you will help me to make this happen.
Last week was another extremely busy one; much of it was devoted to a SOOPER SEEKRIT project that I can’t tell you about yet, but which seems to be moving along pretty quickly. That’s a really good thing because I find that whenever I’m going the way the gods want me to go, things tend to be easy and fall right into place; if I’m going the wrong way, however, they’re nearly impossible. Scoff if you like, but this is my experience of five decades, and I never told you that I was 100% rational. But beside the big project, there were a few other high points of last week: Matt visited me for a few hours on his way through Seattle, and Lorelei and I got to resume our normal Doctor Who date (and if you would like a date with both of us, that can be arranged), and I was able to crack a baking problem I’ve been working on for a couple of months. So all in all, a very good week, and I hope this one is even better!
As I explained on Thursday, my trip got more difficult after I left northern New Mexico on Tuesday. But I made it home safely (if exhausted) Wednesday night and hit the ground running on Thursday; I’ve had a full calendar since then, which is a very good thing even if it did slow my writing catch-up. But I’m back to three columns ahead, and by this time next week I hope to have it back to five. I’ve also received Chester Brown’s art for the cover of The Forms of Things Unknown and as soon as it’s colored and the blurbs are in place, I’ll be ready to compile the book and start the proofing process. Another thing I received by post recently was this lovely red dress from my Amazon wishlist, courtesy of a reader named Michael; if you send me another one (there are several on the list) I’ll post the pictures in an upcoming diary. Oh, and if you prefer to give me money in exchange for services, I should probably point out that Lorelei Rivers and I are doing a two-librarian special for the entire month of February. If you’re in a position to take advantage of that, email me for details; we promise you an unforgettable experience!
As I told you Tuesday, I’ve let myself get very behind on my blogging during this trip, and the past two days did nothing to help that situation. In fact, they made it worse! On Tuesday night I was planning to stay in Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City, but as I was driving west on I-80 in western Wyoming there was an unpredicted snowstorm and I hit a snowdrift which decided to suddenly jump out in front of my car. Neither I nor the car was damaged in any way, but I couldn’t get traction to get out of the snowbank and by the time AAA arrived to pull me out I was in no mood to drive any further that night. So I switched my reservation to the nearest town and then checked in and finished yesterday’s freaking news column (just in case you ever doubted my dedication). However, that meant two extra hours of driving yesterday, plus an extra half-hour due to the lingering bad road conditions from the snowstorm the night before. Then the horrendous weather in Oregon added another hour…all of which means as I type this it has only been about 90 minutes since I got home from driving for fourteen and a half hours straight, the last six and a half of it in very stress-inducing weather. My ears are ringing from engine & road noises & I don’t know if any of you get this weird kind of mental buzz from driving very long stretches, but I do. And for some reason the Traveling Wilburys’ song “The End of the Line” keeps going through my head. I have a very full calendar for the next few days, so I’ve taken double my usual dose of nighty-night edibles so I can go to sleep and reset my brain by tomorrow morning. And that’s why you’re getting a sort of diary column again today; I hope you don’t mind. I’ve included a selfie I took literally before getting out of bed Monday to soften the blow. It’s a lot more flattering than the one I took in very bad light while waiting for the tow truck.
However, I do have a question: Oregon people, is the guy in charge of programming your electronic road signs habitually confused or something? There was a sign announcing “dense fog, low visibility” over a hundred miles east (measured by road) of where the fog actually was, but no sign at the fog’s real location. The fog sign was at the beginning of a snowstorm, and though the visibility was indeed quite limited that doesn’t make it fog. Also, there was a sign announcing “severe icy conditions in the area” to warn of a snowdrift in the left lane which was marked off by traffic cones while a crew worked to remove it. And while I suppose that does indeed constitute “severe icy conditions”, usually the phrase “in the area” implies a geographic entity larger than five square meters or so. It’s almost as weird as New Mexico’s oddly philosophical warning signs that say “high winds may exist” and “rocks may exist”. OK, New Mexico, I appreciate your efforts to inspire drivers to question the nature of reality, but generally speaking highway signs aren’t a proper venue for that. I think for purely everyday purposes, it’s safe to say that both rocks and high winds do indeed exist in many parts of the universe. Changing your signs to simply read, “Beware of Rocks” or “Caution: Intermittent High Winds” would probably get your meaning across more effectively than framing the existence of hazardous natural phenomena as though it were a resolution for a debate in a Philosophy 101 class.
See? I can still be entertaining even when I’m exhausted. And I’m not even stoned yet.
The bad news: I’m finding it a lot more difficult these days to keep up with my blogging while on the road. The good news: That’s mostly because I’m learning to relax a little and enjoy myself more while I am on the road. Though my trips are mostly for business and activism, they also contain plenty of socializing; in the week since my last diary I’ve visited friends in Las Vegas, Tucson and Albuquerque, and today I’ll be headed back to Seattle by way of Salt Lake City. And the reason I’ve had so much trouble keeping up with my blog of late is that I’ve spent large parts of 13 of the last 18 days hanging out & having fun with beautiful, awesome whores. So yeah, I’ll have to scramble to catch up when I get home (tomorrow night, gods willing). But I think it was worth it, and I suspect everyone who loves me will agree.
The big snowstorm in Portland delayed my departure by a day, but fortunately I was able to reschedule my Friday appointments in San Francisco for Saturday. Though I shouldn’t have been, I was rather surprised to discover that a hothouse flower from New Orleans who never drove in snow until after her 36th birthday was still able to do it better than the majority of Portlanders; most of them seemed unable to grasp basic concepts like “driving in the rougher lane or in the tracks left by others will result in better traction”. But in spite of it I had a lovely dinner with a young sex worker who is starting to become interested in activism, then had a long but uneventful drive down to San Francisco on Friday and lots of fun in San Francisco on Saturday (y’all know who you are!) On Sunday I continued on to Los Angeles and spent two days with a friend who in turn introduced me to many of her friends; sometime today I’ll be moving on to Las Vegas, so if you’d like to see me there I still have availability for ONE gentleman tomorrow. I also have time for ONE gentleman in Albuquerque on Monday, but other than that I’m afraid I’m booked solid. If you missed me, please try to book early next time! Anyhow, a week from today I plan to start for home by way of Salt Lake City, and if the weather cooperates I’ll be home a week from tomorrow. Though I don’t like to tour often, it always seems to give me new energy; in fact, things are already looking up for February! But as usual, you’ll have to wait to see what that means (except for my book, which should be out in the next few weeks).