Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’


To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting.

DiCorcia approached his subjects in LA’s “Boystown,” an area of West Hollywood where, in the 80s and 90s, a small fee would buy time with available young rent boys found hanging out on Santa Monica Boulevard. Instead of paying them for sex, he paid them to pose for a photo. The men he found came to LA from all OVER the country for a glamorous new life that they believed could be found in Hollywood. The titles of the photos included the subject’s name, age, hometown and the fee exchanged.

This series was funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant that was awarded to diCorcia in 1989. This was during a time when the government agency was under fire from religious groups that believed the NEA was funding art that embraced controversial gay, religious, political, or obscene content.

Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ (a photo of a crucifix in a glass of piss), Robert Mapplethrope’s photos of naked black men, and Karen Finley’s performances in which she covered her naked body with chocolate to illustrate that women were “treated like shit” are just a few examples of the government funded artistic pursuits that made Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club furious. In this environment, DiCorcia must have found it amusing that a portion of his grant was being used to pay prostitutes.

Marilyn, 28 years old, Las Vegas, Nevada, $30


Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30


Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20


Gerald Hughes (a.k.a. Savage Fantasy), about 25 years old, Southern California, $50


Major Tom, 20 years old, Kansas City, Kansas, $20


Mike Vincetti, 24 years old, New York, New York, $30


Mike, 26 years old, $40


Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, $25


Roy, ‘in his 20s’, Los Angeles, California, $50


Tim Morgan Jr., 21 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25 / Joe Egure, 18 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25


Tim, 27 years old, Orange County, California, $30


Nigel Shafran


‘CC I was wondering about this with the Washing-up 2000 series because it is such a simple subject, almost too simple. I wondered if the series is an example of where it wasn’t a concept when you started but a close-by subject that developed into something

NS It’s a very close-by subject and a lot of my work and the subjects I choose are because of this. It’s what I know.

CC These are photographs of things that only you saw and inpart that means that these inanimate objects read like a diary of the events of your life – of what you eat, who you meet, what these places look like.

NS Sometimes I see old photographs and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there -the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things that we can relate to and hold that everydayness. I like it when something has been photographed in a simple way.

CC I’m very suspicious of the idea of ‘non-subjects’ in photography, I don’t think there are such things. As in the case ofWashing-up 2000, there are subjects that are not very obviously subjects until they are photographed, regardless of whether that was the intention of the photographer or not. There is a feeling that the significance of our lives is implanted in these subtle and everyday occurrences.’

Nigel Shafran and Charlotte Cotton interview  [2004 ]

nigel shafranFig 1. Washing-up (2000)

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? why?

Was this question written by a man?  The question is implying that wash-up is a woman’s subject and therefore the viewer may be surprised to find that it is the work of a man.  That certainly isn’t my thought at all.  I’m wondering if the photographs are viewed in a different way because they are taken by a man?  I’m trying to think back to my first thoughts when initially viewing the above photograph and I was trying to find the artistic merit.  This didn’t come until viewing ‘washing-up’ as a complete project when I could see the shifting changes of time.  The tinsel, a subtle indication of christmas time.  I didn’t assign a gender to the subject of ‘washing up’ in my initial thoughts and I wasn’t surprised to learn it was the idea of a male photographer, I see it as genderless.

In your opinion, does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

I’d like to think that gender isn’t a contributing factor as we are all capable of the same things whether they are physical or emotional, we are all capable.  However, society has assigned these roles to specific genders, women deal with emotions and men deal with physical aspects.  This notion can be further encouraged by the elements so far studied in this section of the course.  We’ve looked at Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus, Gillian Wearing, Trish Morrissey, Nikki S. Lee, Tracey Moffatt and I’ve written a feature on Dita Pepe.  All female photographers or artists who’s works are a response to feelings and emotions they’ve experienced with the exception of our opening autobiographical self portraiture feature of a former OCA student.  Keith Greenough’s self portrait shows three images of himself in the same pose, same background with different identifying clothing which as a series culminates into the fact he is an ironman.  This leads me onto a male stereotypical representation as in Greenough’s self portrait the only other male, Nigel Shafran has chosen to photograph ‘experiences’ i.e. washing-up, a physical representation of an experience.

I would say that women are more open and don’t have the emotional restrictions that most men seem to suffer.  More women photographers expose their inner most thoughts through their photography than men do but thats not to say it doesn’t happen.  Charles Latham created a series of photos that showed him harming himself and posted them online causing a string of heated debates.  This was in response to a relationship breakup which evoked such strong emotions to want to photograph the harm and expose himself to the world.  This resulted in a project ‘Cyrus’ in 2006, where Latham included an alter ego in his self portraits which represented his self loathing.

Fig 2. Cyrus (2006)

So in response to the original question, I don’t see how gender plays a specific role in catergorising photographers work.  As with all art it’s an expression of the individual and  not their given labels.

Gender can be used as an advantage in certain genres and in that case will contribute to the creation of an image but not always.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

When we view portraits we tend to judge the person based on how they look and the environment they are in.  By removing people from the washing up series were able to look more at the inanimate objects for clues on the narrative.  It gives us the ability to make some unbiased deductions about the person or people who are washing up.  For instance we’r not making assumptions on how old these people are but instead where looking at how they live, what do they eat and drink, what other clues are present to suggest an occasion or activity.  Without people present we are forced to look deeper and use our imaginations until we decide what the photograph is about.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

I wouldn’t really think of the washing up series as still life compositions due to the nature of the activity.  Washing up piled up indicates life, someone used the dishes, someone put them there, someone washed up and they’re waiting to be put away.  The photo taking is bringing life to the mundane and telling a story about what happens in that space.  As a series the shifting changes of washing up, different day, different lighting, different crockery, gives the illusion of things moving, objects be put away and different ones used.  I don’t see anything still about the series at all.

Fig 1. Shafran,N. (2000) washing-up At (Accessed) 23/05/17.

Fig 2. Latham, C. (2006) Cyrus At (Accessed 24/5/17.)

Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee’s ‘Projects’ (2011) saw her transform herself into members of different social and ethnic groups where she explores the way photographs represent our relationships with other people.

Fig 1. Hip hop, Hispanic and Seniors

In the above images from Lee’s projects you can see that she the extent of the transformations and her ability to infiltrate different ethnic groups and seamlessly fit in. What’s interesting is how she’s chosen to use snapshots, even including the date on the photographs to backup the validity of the ‘snapshot’ theme.  Also it’s important to note that Lee doesn’t physically take the photograph herself, this is done by a member of the group who doesn’t have any photographic experience.

Lee herself has never claimed to be a photographer but explains that she uses photographs as her medium for her projects.

‘Just because I use the photographic medium, that does not mean I am a photographer.  I am not talking about a hierarchy between photography and art.  I can be a photographer or an artist, whatever really.  I use photography now but that does not mean I will forever…….’
Nikki S. Lee
(Bright, S. 2010:41)

Bright, S. (2010) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson

Dita Pepe

‘I feel that everything in life is relative.  When I look back on my life, if things had been just slightly different, I could have ended up being someone completely different from what I am now.’

– Dita Pepe
Bright, S (2011:106)

This statement from Pepe forms the basis for her series ‘self-portraits with men’ where she placed herself in relationships with lots of different men.  These portraits take place at the mans house or surroundings and often include the mans children.  Pepe would then style herself complimentary to the man and his children making the overall effect very believable.

Fig 1. Self portraits with men (2003 – present)

Theres something very appealing about trying out different outcomes in relation to your appearance and situation.  Styles and relationships evolve and often in a way we don’t recognise ourselves anymore or even relate to our partners.  What Pepe has done is create a catalogue of relationships that can be handpicked during their well established stage.  I wonder if given the choice which scenario most people would opt for?

As the viewer we are automatically piecing together the kind of life each family has based on what their surroundings look like, how they’re dressed and their facial expressions.  We recognise certain stereotypes in these photographs and our perception is dictated by how the images are received e.g. the lady cyclist looks happier than than batman’s wife so we assume she has a better life.

Does this mean that Pepe is looking for her ideal scenario by trying out different relationship situations?  She is pregnant in some of the photographs, I wonder which photograph is closest to the situation she evolved into given her circumstances.

The agony of feedback

I tend to judge my success in an assignment by how the feedback makes me feel.  Always read with one eye open and one eye closed as if I can’t wait to find out but I don’t want to know.  If I’ve done a bad job then I have to deal with the bad feelings associated with the criticism albeit constructive and essential to my growth as a photographer.  If I’ve done a good job then my confidence will grow.

I get lots of praise for my portrait photography but it’s not difficult as the photographs look pretty and the children are cute and their parents are in love with them.  What makes me sit up and listen is feedback from someone who has all the knowledge I crave and can give me assured knowledgeable advice.

So tutor feedback, as painful as it is for me, is the valuable part of distance learning as its a base for making improvements to my knowledge and skills and ultimately my work.


Duane Michals

An American photographer who makes good use of postmodern narrative by using text in close relation to his photographs.

duanemichals01This Photograph is my proof

In this photograph, Michals has used a postmodern relay narrative and added text underneath.  The addition of the text give more depth into the meaning of the photograph.  The text isn’t very legible in this example however it reads:

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The addition of the text tells us more of the story even beyond the photograph.  This photograph has also been given a title which goes some way to giving it narrative but the additional text tells the story further than a moment in time.

Peter Mitchell

I came across Peter Mitchell whilst researching photo essays and it struck a huge chord with me.  I have talked about how I wasn’t photographed as a small child and how in later life this has led me to question my identity so finding Mitchell’s photo essay, from Leeds to London took me on an emotional journey.

Peter Mitchell was a long distance lorry driver travelling from Leeds to London throughout the 70’s.  Along the way he photographed the places he stopped at and the people attached to them.

My dad was also a long distance lorry driver travelling from our home town of Walsall to London working through the night.  Night time work is a completely different world to day time work, with it’s solitude and darkness so dad often took either me or one of my brothers on his journeys.  Imagine doing that now given the nanny state we live, taking a small child on the road in an articulated lorry heading for London!  There’s no insurance to cover that these days whereas back then you wouldn’t need any.

These ‘journeys with my dad’ started during the late 70’s when I was 7 years old and I remember feeling so special and privileged to be involved.  I wish I had photographs of those times but sadly all that remains are faded memories.  When I looked at Mitchell’s  From Leeds to London, the memories came flooding back and also the feelings of excitement and pride for my dad having such an adventurous job.  In truth I probably slept through most of it but what I do remember most vividly is the places we stopped along the way.  The shops with their shopkeepers, the cafes with their cooks and the workers at our final destination, the meat wholesalers.

Its beginning to dawn on me what an influence those times had on shaping my future.  What valuable social lessons they taught me.  I’ve always had the ability to speak to anyone about anything.  I went on to work in a job that saw me travel just as dad did.  As for the meat wholesalers, I’ve haven’t eaten meat since those days as dad was transporting slaughtered animals.  Maybe those feelings are best left where they are!

From Leeds to London is a photo essay of my time on the road with dad.  If only I had the foresight to take a camera with me I would have an identical story in pictures to tell.

Mitchell went on to very successfully produce other works which can be viewed on his website strangely familiar: