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.

It seems that once the idea has been born the work involved is an evolution.  Where did the idea come from and what is DiCorcias personal connection to the hustlers series?

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.

Did DiCorcia in a way feel like he was saving his subjects by paying their fee but not for illegal activity.  The vivid portraits that were created in this series are both intriguing and quite sad.  The ‘fee’ puts an added highlight on the despair of the young rent buys but is this merely a further exploit of these vulnerable individuals?

I think it’s clear from the images that DiCorcia had willing subjects who were happy to pose for the same fee as carrying out sexual acts.  In the scheme of things posing must have seemed a lot easier at the time but what about now?  Where are these boys currently in their lives?  Is the Hustlers series a constant reminder of a time they were less fortunate?  Are they able to move on from this once their history has been made public for all to see?  Such issues are more acceptable in the name of art.

My personal view is that the subjects are no more being exploited than the photographer taking the photographs.  If we, the viewer, weren’t made aware of how some people have to live their lives than how can we ever empathise with them or try to change their outlook?  These important works are invaluable in recording history and the rent boys that took part are both brave and intuitive.  From an artistic point of view the photographs are beautifully composed and lit to really show the personalities emitting from the people in them.  Thanks to DiCorsia we are given a glimpse into a world that we otherwise wouldn’t see.

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.  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



Response to Tutor Feedback – Assignment Five

Overall Comments

Very complimentary overall comments from my tutor which gives me the confidence to take this image a little further.

One issue I need to deal with:

‘You are right to mention the size and resolution of the image so, as well as a larger scale print, please make sure that there is a higher resolution version of the image on your blog that the assessor can zoom in to where necessary. ‘

Through the process of file types and uploads the image has become quite low resolution so I’ll add a link to the high resolution version and also look at having this image printed in a larger scale.

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

When I look at this image, the first impression that I have is that this is a home office that belongs to a neat and organized person who is on top of the various elements of their life. Is this the general impression of ‘you’ that you are trying to convey?

  • Yes.  To me being busy doesn’t mean being messy and unorganised.  In fact to be neat and organised takes even more time and in fact makes me busier.

‘You talk about the misconceptions that other parents have about you based on the evidence that they have at the school drop off but does this image, as it stands, suggest the busy life that you lead?’

  • I think I need to alter my description here as I realise I may have suggested that the school drop off is erratic.  It isn’t.  My son is one of the rare children that is taken into school and collected by  myself every day.  He wears clean uniform every day, has everything he needs, his teeth are cleaned and his hair is brushed.  Other parents assume I don’t work as I’m able to do all these things.  Ultimately my organised self image gives the impression I have time on my hands and I need reword my essay to refute his.
  • Coming back to my tutors comment of ‘does this image suggest the busy life I lead’?  I put lots of key elements into the image to address this but I’m not going to portray being busy as erratic and disorganised because thats simply not who I am.

‘Does this mise en scène refute the ‘lazy’ comment that you refer to in your accompanying description of your process? Certainly the fact that you choose to show an office demonstrates that you do not just ‘sit around all day’ but does it suggest a busy and sometimes stretched wife, mother, photographer, jeweller, student….. etc.?’

  • I personally think the scene refutes the ‘lazy’ comment but of course it is open to interpretation by the viewer.  Barthes penned the term ‘intertextuality’ which basically means that the way we interpret things is dependant of our background and experiences.  As this image is a response to a comment from a mother it can be assumed it is aimed at her and her kind.  Their backgrounds are as parents and therefore will know that as a mother I can’t be lazy.  Especially when I’m so neat and organised.  Add in all the other elements/functions of the image and it reads as a person who has a lot to do.

‘You are right to think about the balance between being ambiguous and obvious in your work and this is certainly something that continually plagues creative people. This, in fact, can get worse as your creative process develops and your own knowledge and ability to evaluate images increases. I am really pleased to see you struggling with this, not because I enjoy witnessing people in turmoil but rather because this is a really important part of your learning process.’

  • This comment has had the biggest impact from all the feedback.  It has taught me that to continually question myself is helping to make me thing deeper about my ideas and how I progress with them.  To be challenged, as I often am, is essential to my learning.  It doesn’t mean I’m not good enough or I’ll never ‘get it’, it means my learning experience is richer.

‘You have included an egg timer to represent your ‘all too often race against the clock’ but most people would associate this object with cooking. Now, in the context of your project, this might not be the end of the world as it also suggests another element of a busy wife and mother’s work schedule, but this side of you is also not overtly suggested either. As your work develops continue to try to hone this ability to make appropriate selections of the elements of an image so that you are more in control of the readings that are made of them.’

  • I’m glad this was picked up on and again it may be better for me to alter my write up.  I mentioned earlier about how I struggled with the balance between giving it all away and ambiguity and it seems that this may be a bit too far on the connotaion side.  A big part of my life is cooking which is why I chose the egg timer to represent this side of my life and also my race against the clock.

‘It is good that you are acting on some of the things that you have learned from your readings of Barthes’ work about the way in which we create meaning from the pictorial elements that are placed in front of us. Have another think about the section in Camera Lucida that talks about the ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’. How would your image be read in these terms? My suggestion would be that you have managed to create a general reading, look or feel (studium) to the image but as it stands, it is the ‘puncum’ (the element that, ‘rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me’) that is perhaps missing.’

  • I agree with this comment and will give a lot of thought to howI’m going to introduce an element to puncture the scene.


Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

This looks ok.


Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

This area of your blog needs much more work, try to clearly show the assessors the books that you have been reading in relation to your work as well as practitioners that you feel cross over (or who are at odds) with your work and ideas. We need to see much more evidence of research outside of your practical experiments.

Assignment Five: Initial Ideas, the decision and plan.


  • Highlighting the complex diversity of the roles carried out by women in todays instant high demand society.
  • What would life be like if a life changing decision had been a different decision and how would it impact other people?
  • There are very photographs of me as a child, what would they look life if there were?
  • If I could choose lives for my sons, what would their life look like?  How would this differ from the life they have made for themselves?  Would my knowledge and wisdom be more valuable if it were to be put into a visual format of scenarios and outcomes?

Which one will work?

It has been a long term idea for me to recreate my own childhood in photographs through memories I have.  At birth my parents took one photograph of me, or at least they thought they did.  It was taken in our back garden being held by my mum and I assume my dad took the photo.  It was February, I was swaddled in blankets and there is no sight of my skin from any angle.  So, they are really photographs of my mum holding a baby wrapped in blankets.

This lack of documentation continued up to the age of eight or nine when my older sister was given a camera for her birthday.

This will be a huge project when I finally work it all out so I don’t think it would be appropriate for this assignment at this time.

The ideas about ‘a different decision’ and ‘photographing wisdom’ are ones that interest me but I don’t feel ready at this time to explore them.

‘The roles of women’ is something that I’m currently feeling the pressure about.  Even as I write I’m being asked questions by my children that their father can answer but they automatically come to me.  This isn’t a bad thing, I want my children to come to me and they should be my priority but I have an impending assignment deadline, holiday washing to get through, a dinner to cook, jewellery orders to fulfil and a VAT return to do.  All very different tasks which require entirely different head space but nonetheless they all require my attention.  This is a typical day for me and it’s no wonder I sometimes put the washing in the oven or write a blog that makes no sense.  A lot is expected of me and I work hard to achieve it so why do I still feel like I’m not successful?  How is society measuring successful women and how damaging can it be?

I started asking these questions of myself after a ‘friend’ made a comment to me that didn’t floor me at the time but its changed the way I maintain my self image.  My friend was looking for a new job and torn between working outdoors or in an office.  I was advising her to go with the job that would make her most happy and would give her family the best balance.  On the one hand she could go to a job that she would enjoy, working three days per week so more time for her children but it was a pro rata salary.  The other job was in an office, work she wouldn’t enjoy, full time but for more money.  She went for the job that would make her miserable, take her away from her children but her need to appear successful far outweighed the problems it would cause.  I asked her how do you measure success and she said by the amount of money she earns.  She didn’t ask me how I measure success probably because I don’t go to a place of work and I’m seen as ‘not working’.

My friend knows how busy I am, she knows the 2.5 businesses I run but she still sees me as not working.  The big blow came when discussing her job choices and she said ‘I wish I could just potter around the all day like you do’.  Suddenly it clicked!  Thats why people say to me ‘you can take that meeting you have more time’ or ‘can you pick up my kid from school as I’m running late, I know you’ll be there’.  Its true I am always there for my children and I am flexible with meeting times but only because my eight hour working day can be any eight hours of the day so I’m ‘available’.  It may mean I have to work from 10pm until 2am to catchup but they don’t see that.

I now make sure I’m seen to be unavailable to stop other people thinking they are more important that me or that their jobs are more important than my job.  I decided a long time ago to put the most importance on my children and husband and everything else I do when I can.  In reality this is how I measure my success by my ability to be a great wife and mother and run a successful business.

This is what I want to show.

The Decision

Highlighting the complex diversity of the roles carried out by women in todays instant high demand society in response to a single comment made by a friend.

What am I and what do I do?

Wife – Supporting husbands career – works away – covers all jobs in house – ensures he has everything he needs
Mother – Look after children – feed – clothe – nurture – organise – entertain – plan – taxi – clean
Photographer – organise clients – studio photoshoots – maintain website – edit photos
Jewellery Maker – maintain website – take orders – make jewellery – create new designs – research and development – update social media pages – dispatch
Student – study – carry out research – carry out exercises – update blog – refelection – forums – help other students
Book keeper – book keeping – VAT returns – PAYE – annual returns – accountant contact – record keeping
PTA Chairperson – organise events – raise funds – communicate to parents and teachers – attend functions
Crafter – knitting – clay making – painting – drawing – sewing – maker

Where do I spend most of my time?


If I use a series of photographs with all the different elements it won’t have the desired impact.  I need to encompass all my roles into one room without using a literal approach.  Which room can I use to obtain one image with all the elements in?  I’d like to use my favourite room which will add to the narrative.

The room I love to spend time in is my office.  It has the most light, its modern, mainly white and very clean and is the place I go to when I need some head space enabling me to better juggle all of my roles.

What do I consider the roles I want to highlight to appear more successful?

To ‘appear’ more successful to other people I would order my roles as the following:

Jewellery maker
Book keeper
PTA Chairperson

Do I want to put an element of each role into the photograph?  

I think I need to in order to show how varied my roles are.  If I leave anything out I appear less busy.

What props will I use?

Jewellery maker ~ Keyrings on a stand ~ hammer and stamps ~ jewellery magazine
Photographer ~ Camera ~ editing software on computer ~ Newborn prop
Book keeper ~ invoices ~ calculator
Student ~ Photography books ~ OCA folder
PTA Chairperson ~ fundraising poster ~ events print out on wall
Mother ~ photograph of family ~ egg timer set ~ karate certificate on wall
Wife ~ wedding photograph
Crafter ~ knitting pattern ~ arm knitted cowl on chair

The set-up

I’m using my office to setup my scene.  It currently has other peoples elements present so I need remove them and clear my desk.  The lighting will be better if I move my desk to another wall as the light coming in from the window will highlight the items on the desk.  Its a dull day so I can envisage some quite natural moody lighting which is consistent with my photography style and will add to the narrative.  If the light isn’t right at the time I will use studio lamp directing light in the opposite direction to the window.

I drew a sketch of how I want the scene to look and where I would place my signifiers:


I’ll attempt to physically recreate this scene. Firstly I needed to clear away the clutter that wasn’t relevant to the narrative.

Once the conflicting items had been removed I was left with a blank canvas to build my story on.


At this stage I only have natural light coming in from the window.  I plan to put my signifiers in place and set up the lighting.  I also need to decide on the correct lens to use as this wide angle lens is is distorting the image.

Scan 2017-8-30 15.39.00

I now have everything I need to carry out the project.

N.B. I have decided to drop the PTA Chair role from my project as I plan to resign soon due to a heavy workload!


Response to Tutor Feedback – Assignment Four

Overall Comments

The overall comments from my tutor for this assignment were very good.  He states that I managed to identify the most important elements of the chosen image.

Feedback on Assignment

Initial comments are regarding my writing style and that it needs to be more academic.  I agree with this statement and will place more importance on researching this subject.  I found a useful guide on the OCA student website called ‘Academic Essay Writing’ and having read it, my tutors comments fall perfectly into place.

There is a section on structuring essays and it suggests thinking of essays in three sections, introduction, middle section and conclusion.  This is very helpful in keeping thoughts within a specified section so as not to digress into others.  My sentence structure needs the most work as I tend to flit between writing as the first person and the third person all in the same essay.  It is suggested in the guide to write academic essays as the third person and I will reword my original essay to reflect this.

As the majority of the feedback is regarding the structure of my essay and not the actual content I will improve upon the writing whilst creating the necessary structures to make it more legible for assessment.

Tutors suggestions

  • Improve the amount and quality of your own reflection
  • As you research for assignment five, make sure that you include all of your pertinent research leading up to your final submission

I still have more work to do in this area.  The speed at which I’ve had to surge through the course has left little time for reflection but I intend to make sure these additions are in place before the assessment deadline.


Response to Tutor Feedback – Assignment Three

Overall Comments

My tutor was highly complimentary regarding the idea for this assignment which was a huge relief to me as I felt I had put myself out in the open domain.  My aim was to be more creative in my ideas and using more conceptual methods and I’m pleased my tutor picked up on this and made positive comments.


Feedback on assignment

The feedback I received on this assignment helped me to obtain a clearer vision in my head of how this assignment should be structured.

After the initial idea came to me, my approach was based in real time.  My submission is a day by day honest and conceptual narrative of the British family holiday in the guise of a diary.  The emotions that led to each entry at times culminates into an evocative reflection of the feelings endured on a typical family holiday instead of the usual scenic seaside photographs we normally see.

The accompanying text was added to elicit thoughts from my viewers that go beyond the image and the diary entry and giving a sense of ‘whats going on here?’.  I wanted my audience to have more questions than answers allowing them to create their own versions of the story and looking further into the images and text for answers.

My tutor remarked that certain images and texts work very well and suggested my diary should be filled with these examples.  In my initial plans I hadn’t considered how feasible it would be to revisit and rework some of the images and text.  In reality its not something I can revisit or rework before the end of the course.  Having said that, I do feel that the diary as a whole is more representative of how I was feeling at the time.  To add or remove entries now would compromise the diary’s original and true meaning.

I can however understand what my tutor is saying.

  • Some of the images and texts may come across as page fillers and in the interests of keeping my audience engaged, less is more.
  • The images and texts that are strong individually may be lost amongst those that are less punchy and conceptual.
  • My tutors feedback has helped me to identify the difference between what works and what doesn’t, so that I can replicate this theme in future projects.
  • What I don’t say is as important as what I do say.  Some texts that accompany my images are giving too much away.  A hypothetic approach would leave more to the imagination.

I have a collection of images intended for the diary that I left out by choice because they didn’t fit the original narrative but were taken at a time when I felt I needed to say something.  Based on my tutors feedback I’m going to demonstrate the effectiveness of images with the correct accompanying text.

Too far

‘He’s gone too far this time’

The intention here is to not only set the scene i.e. on holiday, but also raise questions in my viewer:

  • Who’s gone too far?
  • Where has he gone?
  • Has he physically or metaphorically gone too far?
  • Is he in the picture?
  • Has he gone further than the frame?
  • Is the photographer angry or concerned?

On it’s own this image and text raises more questions than answers but as part of the diary it can be assumed that I’m not happy about something and tempers are flared.  Assumptions can be made regarding who ‘he’ is and the audience can build their own picture of what this holiday is about.  What I haven’t told the viewer is as thought provoking as what I haven’t told them.

I’m going to attempt to replace one of my less effective images and texts with this in my physical diary.

Tutors Suggestions

  • Broaden your research of image and text work by a variety of artists.
  • Show more evidence of more research, reading, looking and thinking.

I understand that I need to demonstrate my research and thinking in my blog and I have many ‘draft’ blogs in progress which show the extra work I do aside from course content.  I need to be more disciplined when it comes to giving evidence of reflective thinking and by the end of the course I will tie up all my reflective blogs to show this.



Response to Tutor Feedback – Assignment Two

Overall Comments

I was pleased with the opening comment ‘This is an interesting and creative way to approach this brief’ as my intention is to produce ideas that my audience will enjoy.  Before studying context and narrative I had generally thought about what makes a pleasing image rather than what will appear interesting to my viewers?

My tutor particularly liked the idea of a strong emotion being attached to a simple object and complimented me on how clearly the narrative communicates through a small number of images.  I’m happy to continue with this idea and improve my work based upon image by image feedback.

Feedback on Assignment

My tutor had the following comment to make,

‘think about how you might achieve a staged aesthetic that moves beyond the illustration of a moment within a narrative and towards a reading that invites the viewer to consider your images in ways that still adhere to your narrative but also take them on other mini visual and conceptual journeys’.

I do feel that my images maintain a level of realism despite being staged.  It is difficult to maintain a narrative based on a feeling that is unseen which means that the viewer has to draw on their own experiences and relate my images to their own events.

Image 01

I received very positive comments regarding this image, introducing a character, the evocative time of day, creating empathy.  My tutor makes references to this and the final image being too similar.  My intention was to make the final image more downtrodden, a dirtier handkerchief to suggest a deeper hurt however it seems that this idea hasn’t translated too well.

My original intention of using the same scene in the first and last photographs was to represent how perpetual emotions can be resulting in ‘being back at square one’.  To correct this I’ve attempted to make the handkerchief more dishevelled and used a different angle as suggested by my tutor to change the scene slightly.  I don’t want this to detract from my original intention.

Image 02

Despite being complimentary about this image my tutor feels I should introduce my second character at this stage.  I like his suggestion of introducing this character in silhouette  at twilight looking like he’s stalking someone (the handkerchief/emotion).

Image 03

The feedback on this image is that it looks too staged.  It is suggested to take a photograph of the washing in the middle of its cycle, from further away, with a figure in the back ground.

I can see how these additions would add to the narrative and also make the scene look less staged.  My problem is with logistics, there is no room to move further back, in fact I wrote about this in my planning for the assignment and it was also in my opinion the least pleasing image of the set.  I have took on board the suggestion of photographing a wash in progress as an attempt to bring some movement and life into the photograph.

Image 04

Great feedback, no changes needed.

Image 05

Again great feedback.  My tutor suggests being at an important event or being admired by a third character.  I can see how this would improve the narrative although I still feel that I want to remain intensely focussed on the stages the handkerchief is going through as the next image is quite damning.

Image 06

‘Too staged’

I actually shot this with motion blur and then decided to use the static image instead purely because it looked a better quality image.  This has been a good lesson for me as I’m transitioning from trying to create the best looking photograph into also introducing a narrative.  On this occasion I had detracted from the narrative in favour of a sharp image.  I have now decided that the narrative has more importance than I originally gave it.

Image 07

Again I need movement in this image and will recreate the photograph to reflect his and include it in my assignment submission.

Image 08

As mentioned in image 01 a more downtrodden look is required here.

Also my tutor suggested that I look at he work of Gregory Crewdson and my reflection piece can be found here:

Gregory Crewdson

Research and planning for Assignment Two – Photographing the unseen

I began my thought process by revisiting everything I covered in Part two of this course to reflect on what I’d learnt and hopefully construct it all into a cohesive understanding.

Guidance notes from Part Two (Narrative) in preparation for Assignment Two

When looking at Part Two as a whole I could see that a lot of guidance was given in terms so of how to tell a story in images which left enough scope to develop my own ideas.  Its important to note that a story can be successful not just by what you choose to include but also by what you choose to omit.

I then engaged with other students via the forums, reading about what other people were doing or how stuck for ideas they were.  I got thinking about my own ideas and wrote a list of emotions to portray:

Sadness – what makes us sad?
Happiness – what makes us happy?
loneliness – a day in the life of a lonely figure
Despair – Portrayal of a tortured soul
Anger – Beginning to end

All quite boring and predictable!  I went back to the drawing board
When I’m trying to think of ideas for a theme, the thinking takes place at every opportunity, walking to school, shopping, editing photos, talking to other people, it’s incredibly consuming.  My inspiration came from a conversation with a long term friend who struggles to maintain relationships and we were discussing at which part in the process she feels it goes wrong.  We then discussed the process relationships go through and the associated feelings and so I thought to myself I can make a story out of that idea. I then needed to think how I would go about it and by using the student forums I noticed that the option of using a white handkerchief was highly disregarded so I put the two together and drew up a story board.

Assignment Two story board

I need a rainy day and sunny day to complete this set of images so it may take time to complete.  In addition I’ll need to enlist the help of a man to use as a model in carrying out four of the scenarios.

I’m trying to decide whether to add text to images and have a loose idea of using hashtags.  The reason for this is that relationships are very often played out on social media and people make use of hashtags to demonstrate how they’re feeling.  I need to think carefully as to how damaging this could be in terms of telling the story rather than suggesting one. As I’m favouring a postmodern approach, I  want the viewer to think about what the handkerchief has been through and maybe consider it’s feelings despite it being an inanimate object.