*The following interview contains content that is not suitable for viewers under the age of eighteen. You might also want to avoid viewing this on a work computer!
Scot Sothern’s photography and written works provides a rare glimpse in to arguably one of the toughest professions one could undertake in the Western world. The lives of street sex workers.
Transgression recently caught up with Scot.
What came first? The photography or the visiting sex workers?
My father was a portrait photographer in Springfield, Missouri, so I grew up in a studio and began working in the darkroom before I reached my teens. Also, in my teens, in the in the 1960s, I discovered two-dollar whore houses.
It was in Los Angeles in my thirties, running wild and between marriages, that I decided to revisit the world of working girls. Initially, taking pictures of street prostitutes was my way of giving myself permission to hang out in unsavory places.
What inspired you to shoot them and not say, mountain vistas?
I always thought pretty pictures were for other photographers; I liked angry photographs. If anything it’s a form of rebellion with a social message. I’m also a night person and find the darker underground elements of society to be more of an adrenalin rush. It’s more fun than climbing a fucking mountain and waiting for the perfect light.
How has the public responded to your work?
As a writer and photographer I mostly get positive reviews. I care deeply about these women on the streets and I think it shows. Every so often I get accused of being an exploitative asshole but I don’t mind. In general, the kind of people who hate what I do are not the people who seek out my work, so I only hear the good comments.
Do any particular girls stand out? Why?
A girl named Fritter who I photographed in the late eighties comes to mind now and again. A woman named Pepper who I photographed under a bridge is still a favorite. I remember the sad ones the most.
Tell us a bit about your life before photography. Where did you grow up? What influenced you?
Because my father was a professional photographer there was never really a time before photography that I can remember. I was a bit of a wild child and in my teens I liked to drink and fight and crash cars and burn barns.
The Missouri Ozarks, made me neurotic so I took off after high school. It was the Sixties and I came to California looking for sex and drugs and peace and love.
As a photographer I was influenced by the work of Arnold Newman and William Mortensen, Charles Gatewood and Stanley Kubrick. As a writer there are way too many to mention. When I was young I loved John Steinbeck, Hubert Selby, and Erskine Caldwell.
You have been quoted as saying that your photographs not only just expose the women in your shots, but also that they show who you are at the same time? Can you elaborate on what you meant by this?
It’s the nature of art, the subject is an extension of the artist. I’m the guy who stood in that spot and made the exposure and that alone should define who I am.
There always seems to be a raging debate by those who claim to be actin gin in the best interest of sex workers. Some call for complete legalization of prostitution and at the other extreme you get those who say that anyone involved deserves to be arrested. What are your thoughts?
I’d like to outlaw the pimps and make all the rest legal. America is rife with puritan idealism and it’s wrong. Street prostitutes are treated as criminals and that’s wrong. The working girls have enough to cope with just to get through the night, why should we make things harder? Sex workers have organized somewhat in the last decade and that’s a good thing but it doesn’t really do anything for the girls working the streets.
What is Scot Sothern up to now?
My novel, BigCity, is coming out from Stalking Horse Press in March of 2017. I’m working on a new series of photographic constructions which are a combination of pictures from the streets and objects from life. Mostly I’m just going where my mood takes me and having a pretty good time.