Visions & Voices:
Photographs by Diverse Women Working in Various Aspects of the Sex Industry
April 30 - June 12, 2011
Grahm, "Who all are Innocent, I" 2008
Visions & Voices uses art as activism to challenge ideas of sexuality, the human gaze, voyeurism, perspectives on sex work, as well as the stereotypes and stigma associated with the sex industry. The subjective experiences and voices of sex workers are seldom heard and their needs have consistently been defined and represented by non-sex workers thoughout history, in society and within academia. Historical and visual representations of sex workers by others have both stigmatized sex workers and perpetuated stereotypical symbols of sexuality. Academic research is consistently being done “on” sex workers instead of with them, denying them of their personal agency.
This project provided a means to understand the needs and aspirations of female sex workers in Portland, Oregon from their own personal points of view through art. Using the research methodology of photo-voice, eleven diverse women working in different areas of the sex industry were provided with 35 mm cameras and black and white film, providing them with the means to bring forward their knowledge and experience, their needs and aspirations.
The thirty-four images presented in this exhibition were selected from amongst the hundreds of images shot by these women. These highly evocative, personal, and touching black and white photographs illuminate issues surrounding identity, sexuality, violence, love, death, privilege, class, power, race and respect; offering a very personal glimpse into the individual lives of these women and a side of the sex industry not seen by those not working in it.
Sex workers operate within a liminal space in contemporary society. They are often objectified, stigmatized, victimized and sexualized; but at the same time they become ignored, forgotten and unnoticed. We see the sex worker as a figure, but ignore the context from where she comes or where she exists. These images poignantly humanize these individuals that contemporary society ignores. They offer us a glimpse into her world, her desires, her hopes, her needs, her dreams and her reality.