Katherine Oktober Matthews
American photographer Scot Sothern (b. 1949) began photographing prostitutes on the streets of LA in the ’80s. In explicit, gritty, sometimes hard to stomach images of people trying to get by, one trick at a time, Sothern confronts our comfortably distant notions of working women. By upturning clichés like ‘the prostitute with a heart of gold’ and sometimes playing on the caricatures of vulgar ugliness we expect, the images leave us all accused. He speaks here with Katherine Oktober Matthews about being angry, taking pictures to kick people in the nuts, and beautiful women that go to new lows. (See the images from A New Low.)
How did you get started with this kind of photography, and which came first – being a patron to the prostitutes or photographing them?
In the ‘80s, I was out on my own again, freshly divorced, and being kind of crazy, and I had a tryst with a prostitute and I thought, you know, if I’m going to do this, I should be taking pictures, and that’s how it got started. Then I quit taking the pictures in 1990 and I didn’t actually start doing it again until just a couple years ago. For 20 years, I really wasn’t doing it at all.
As to which came first… I grew up in a small town in Missouri in the Ozarks and, at the young age of 14 and 15, went to two dollar whorehouses. So, I’ve been a patron more or less all my life, though not really a lot in my adult life.