It has taken me a while to formulate this response because the issues it raises are complex.
Schafer’s article is about two very different things: visual storytelling and sex work/ers.
It certainly looked like collaboration, and it was more collaborative than other works my photographic peers might have been making at the time, but the outcomes were still reliant on me using their work to tell the story I pictured.
Sothern’s stark black-and-white images taken of sex workers over a 30-plus year period were published as Sothern’s work predominantly acts as no-holds-barred, unflinching and unapologetic account of his own drug addiction and use of sex workers — cathartic perhaps, and often poetic despite its ethical ambiguity.
Although it is unsettling at times, I have always admired the refreshing candour about how his images were made.
Being open about the negotiations around image taking is rare in this industry, which prides itself on ‘truth telling,’ but often fails to acknowledge the dubious ethical paths that image makers can, and sometimes do, traverse (unless some public vilification is in order).
Sothern’s work has never strayed from the revelatory — he bares himself almost as much as he does his subjects — nor does he offer his approach as a unique tactic necessary to the proper telling of these particular stories:“Men are evil fuckheads who don’t deserve the brute strength they have over women; I’d like my photographs to punctuate that statement.
Ultimately, I think failing to clarify why he to become a client to reveal a different side of the women who make their living from sex was the major hole in the conceptual development of this work.