"Working Girls", Lives of Sex Workers
By: Claudia Shaldervan
Long deceased and forgotten artists are often found in unexpected ways, as in the case of Vivian Maier and Modigliani. What is now the book “Working Girls” was unearthed in an art fair by curator and private collector Robert Flynn Johnson. Photographed by William Goldman, the series depicts the lives of a group of women who lived and worked at a brothel in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1892.
William Goldman, a regular customer at the brothel, captured the women resting in between suitors, reading or reclining on plush chaise lounges, draped in lavish textiles. Some images are reminiscent of Titian, Goya, and Degas.
Upon first glance, one might be inclined to draw parallels between William’s photographs and Manet’s Olympia, yet arguably the few comparisons can be based on formal content. While Olympia confronts the viewer with an assertive gaze and exudes dominance through rigid body language, William Goldman’s subjects are presented in a less dignified fashion. “...during much of the nineteenth century, Americans viewed prostitution as a safety valve for sexually active men who might attack respectable young women or for wandering husbands who strayed from their uninterested wives” –Ruth Rosen. However, in relation to studio craftsmanship, the photographs are charged with painterly references common in the practice of early photography. Rembrandt lighting, dramatic poses, and poetic interpretation of mythological motifs: a lady nymph, Madonna, Grecian goddess, are also present. The exhibition will be on view at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery until October 13th, 2018. Image courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery