Photography: Erika Langley from the series ‘Lusty Ladies’
Driving home from the Capital today I tuned into Absolute Radio 80’s. As the car lights zipped past me I found myself belting out (not word for word and certainly not note for note) Teardrops by Womack and Womack. Then in amongst this cacophony, one line of the song struck me like a small bolt of lightning and an energy rose right through my body.
The Inside Outside workshops are delivered seamlessly by the unstoppable force of nature, Linda Thomson. With her contagious accent, her bubbling enthusiasm and a sparkle in her eyes she makes everyone feel safe, important and cared for. Today I met ‘Katie’ (her real name and identity is protected) for the first time and her key worker joined us too. Immediately, I felt a connection in the room. A quiet bond was set instantly. Time fades quickly when we are all together and before long, with great sensitivity, information, anecdotes and deeply personal experiences are shared, together. And it goes without saying that this time and space is sacred, private and certainly confidential.
As an integral part of the workshop we look at the work of 4 photographers who have gained access either, legitimately or vicariously into the lives of woman in the sex industry.
Today, more than ever I was struck by the work of American photojournalist Erika Langley and her series titled Lusty Lady. I only really discovered the work of Langley last night. Her name had popped up during the first workshop but I didn’t take any real notice until now. What’s different about Langley, in my opinion from the other photographers we are looking at in the workshops is that she spent 12 years working as a dancer in the Lusty Lady Peep Show Seattle from 1992-2004 to produce her images.
To set the scene a little, in the workshops we are asked to comment on the images from the photographers. And to be honest, everyone’s thoughts are mixed but there is a common thread, a general consensus that the nature of the photographs are exploitative and the representation of the woman in the photographs is negative.
However, studying Langley’s images and delving into her world a little deeper I feel differently about her portrayal of the woman she has captured. Perhaps, I have decided that after 12 years she has earned her stripes to photograph the woman with whom she spent so much time with.
Here’s the work of the very intriguing Erika Langley….
I have to be brutally honest, I am vicarious by nature. My first real full blown obsession with photographic images was of Lady Diana. I still have the books (they’re on display in my living room). I had the newspaper articles and I watched the documentaries. I devoured it all. These obsessions continue in me as a photographer now. I have had female and male muses or obsessions depending on how you want to quantify it. I love getting a glimpse into peoples lives. I get excited capturing a glint in someones eye. I feel hysteria rising in me looking through the lens and seeing only something the photographer can see. Most of all I love the intimacy between the photographer and the subject, whether male or female. What I am intimating at, is that I would jump at the opportunity to photograph woman involved in prostitution, in their environments, in their homes and even on the streets.
But I’m not there yet and I’m certainly not at the stage where I have the right to expose the ‘whispers in the powder room’.
Inside Outside has been enlightening for me. It’s made me really think on a deeper level about the representation of the subject by the photographer. For instance, the work of Guy Bourdin mesmerises me. But in fact it is hugely exploitative of the female form and gender. He uses woman. The woman are in fact his tool for bondage in the guise of a muse.
This project has flipped the whole concept of photojournalism on its head for me and hopefully for you too. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s sincere and cathartic. It’s giving our woman a voice through their own images to tell their story, to help others and to educate us all. It’s cutting out the bias perspective of the photographer.
For the first time in a long time I am not the photographer. I am there to guide and help, to print, frame and install, to promote and to nurture.
I am the photographers assistant. And I am hugely proud of my role in this. My veil of adoration is slipping with my favourite male photographers. I have to admit to myself for the first time that they are at the core of exploitation of woman through their depictions and their photographs.
My heart is heavy but my mind is positive!
But for now, I have a new muse, Erika Langley I need to meet you…..