Selling Women's Bodies in Boystown
Although the depiction of prostitutes in the visual arts has a distinguished history spanning many centuries, documentary photographic images are relatively recent and in general exist as personal visions offered by particular artists (Brassie, “Paris After Dark”; Belloq, “Storyville”). In the Witliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican photography at Texas State University--San Marcos, there is an astonishing archive of approximately 6000 images taken in the brothels known as Boystown in Nuevo Laredo on the Texas-Mexican border. I propose a PowerPoint presentation featuring these images made in 1973-1974 by insiders ( i.e., working party photographers) who freely roamed the walled community. Their stark, flash-lit images were made to order and sold to clients as mementoes. They unselfconsciously depict the trade in human flesh as it actually unfolds, as liaisons formed and deals are struck. Many show couples or groups—sitting, dancing, the men often fondling the women they bought, or planned to buy. The prostitutes invent themselves for the camera, wearing revealing clothing, posing partially nude—whatever their client requests, although some, beaten down by circumstance, no longer have the energy to pretend. Photos like these are among the most ephemeral of documents—usually lost or thrown away, the negatives always destroyed. What makes this series of pictures truly unique is that they survived to bring us an unprecedented view into the commerce of a subculture usually presented as the personal vision of an individual artist. In this case, however, they deliver a powerful, edgy, document of social reality.
Connie Todd (United States)
Department of Special Collections, Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography
Texas State University
Born in Austin, Texas; Curator of the Southwestern Writer's Collection and the Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography. Editor, Southwestern Writer's Collection series with University of Texas Press.
(30min. Paper Presentation, English)